We're Number 39! We're Number 39! We're Number 29!

The Vermont Political Observer. Posted by Cynthia Terrell on October 07, 2014

The Vermont Political Observer

A survey of women’s representation in elective office came out a few days ago, and it found good old progressive liberal hotbed Vermont way down in 39th place among the 50 states.

And who was number one? That neighboring hotbed of retrograde conservatism, New Hampshire. Best in the nation. 38 places ahead of us.

The survey comes from a group called Representation 2020, which is working toward gender parity in public office. It measured each state by proportion of women in Congressional delegations, statewide elective offices, state legislatures, mayoralties, and county executive positions. (Oops, Vermont doesn’t have any of those.) And it assigned a score to each state, on a scale of 1 to 100. A score of 50 would indicate gender parity.

No state got there, naturally. The top six states managed to get into the 30s.

Vermont? To paraphrase Nigel Tufnel, we go all the way to eleven.

Eleven. 

We get top marks in one category — women in the lower house of the legislature. 42% of our state representatives are women; we earned ten points for that. Which means, of course, that we really suck at everything else. The only other point we got was for State Treasurer Beth Pearce. To tick off some of our dismal statistics:

— We’ve never elected a woman to Congress.

— We’ve only had one female governor, Madeleine Kunin.

— Although we do very well in the state House, we don’t do so well in the Senate: only eight women out of 30, roughly 26%.

— None of our five largest cities has ever had a female mayor. EVER.

— Currently, only one of our eight cities has a female mayor.

So, House of Representatives aside, why is Vermont politics such a pickle party? I spoke with Sarah McCall, executive director of Emerge Vermont, a nonprofit whose goal is “identifying, training and encouraging women to run for office, get elected, and to seek higher office.” The most notable graduate of EV’s first training round is Windham County Democrat Becca Balint, who’s virtually assured of a seat in the state Senate after finishing second in the party primary. (Two seats up for grabs; no Republicans running.) She will replace the departing Peter Galbraith, which I mention only because I never get tired of saying “the departing Peter Galbraith.” Tee hee!

McCall says Vermont has a “great track record” in the House, but there seems to be a glass ceiling above that. She identifies a number of factors limiting women’s upward mobility:

— Small state, small number of high-level seats.

— “No term limits,” and “incumbency is very strong in Vermont.”

— A lack of women in the positions that usually feed into high office: mayoralties, and the State Senate.

McCall describes the next few years as a critical time, because the members of our Congressional delegation will retire sooner or later, and Governor Shumlin will likely move on after another term or two. “Madeleine Kunin thought there’d be women following in her footsteps,” she says, but there were none. We lost a whole generation. Now, “we’re building the pipeline, making sure we have women in position, ready to go, when opportunities open up.”

Of course, they’ll face a challenge from the men of the next generation, who’ve been biding their time waiting for our gray-haired solons to retire. I suppose it’d be too much to ask those men to set aside their own political aspirations for the sake of some equity.

And before anyone starts yammering about “affirmative action” and “choosing the most qualified,” here are a few words on that subject from Ms. McCall.

She says there’s a “misconception” that women need to beef up their resumes to be competitive. It’s the other way around, in fact: “Women are usually more qualified, because they believe that they need to be overprepared before running for office.”

I’ve seen the same phenomenon in the ranks of the clergy: just about every female minister/pastor/priest/rabbi/etc. I’ve ever met has struck me as extremely qualified: learned, intelligent, and empathetic. It’s because a woman still has to jump through a lot of hoops to get into the clergy, so only the best and most determined get in.

Emerge Vermont, by the way, is currently seeking applicants for its second round of training. The application deadline is November 10, and the training starts in January. Prepare now, to run in 2016!

Also, EV is having its big annual celebration on Wednesday, October 15 at the Shelburne Museum. They’ll be honoring Madeleine Kunin on the 30th anniversary of her election as Governor. Information on all this good stuff at EV’s website.

I wish them well. We could certainly use a lot more gender equity in Vermont. In this category at least, New Hampshire puts us to shame. How ’bout we start closing the gap?

Show Comments
comments powered by Disqus

Join us in turning public passion for gender parity into action and results