While it is often said that women have come a long way in politics, they haven’t advanced much lately.
After sharp gains in the 1980s, women today hold less than a quarter of the state legislative seats and statewide executive offices. Across the 50 states, there are six female governors.
Their representation in those offices is little changed since the 1990s, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. In state legislatures, women in 1999 held 22.4 percent of the seats nationwide. That number was just 24.3 percent in 2009, where it remains today.
The stalled progress is not because women can’t win elections, says Debbie Walsh, who directs the Rutgers center. She says most research shows that women win elections at about the same rate as men.
"The problem is that there aren’t enough women running,” she said. And while Walsh lists many reasons women don’t run, we think one of the most interesting is that women often look at America’s hyper-partisan political institutions and conclude that they’re not the place to be if you want to make difference in the world.
Of course, sometimes government can be a place that makes a difference. And today, we begin telling the stories of 25 women who have made change happen. We’ll introduce them about once a week, then compile their profiles in a book to be published in time for the Democratic and Republican conventions in July.
In our search for these 25 women, reporters and editors at CQ Roll Call considered a wide range of statewide office holders and leadership-level legislators. To call the final 25 the most influential women in state politics invites what ought to be a celebratory debate that might make more women decide that they can make a difference in government.
-- Tony Gnoffo
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