Equality overdue in all government

(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency, making her the first woman in American history to lead a major party ticket. That landmark moment should shine a spotlight on the need for more female representation in government at every level.

The situation should matter to any citizen, regardless of political preferences. Women comprise 50.8 percent of the U.S. population, including 50.7 percent of Hoosiers. Their intelligence (females earn 56.7 percent of bachelor’s degrees today), talent, personal experiences, compassion and interests should be, at the very least, equally considered when Congress, state legislatures and city and county councils act. Yet, too often women must rely on male public officeholders to address their greatest concerns and govern accordingly, with mixed results.

Women tend to place a higher priority on some issues, such as the environment, health care and reproductive issues and education, according to the “Status of Women in the States” report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The number of female elected officials is growing, yet it is still too low to properly influence decisions made on those issues.

Of the 535 members of the 114th Congress, only 108, or 20 percent, are women. That’s a record, though. Just a dozen years ago, a mere 74 of the Capitol Hill seat-holders were women.

Indiana fits that national pattern. Women occupy 31 of the 150 seats in the state Legislature, or 20.7 percent, including 22 in the Indiana House and nine in the Senate. Women hold four of the seven statewide offices, but that number dropped by one when former Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann resigned in March to pursue a college presidency and Gov. Mike Pence replaced her with Eric Holcomb. This fall, Republicans Pence and Holcomb are being challenged by Democrats John Gregg and Christina Hale, a current state representative from District 87 in Indianapolis.

The chances of Indiana’s ratio changing much in the November election are slim. Among both parties, only 38 female candidates are on the ballot in the 100 House races. Six of those feature two women competing for the same seat. Thirty-six House district races include just one unopposed candidate, and 29 of them are male. Nine women of either party are candidates for the 25 Senate seats on the ballot; eight Senate district races involve an unopposed candidate, and just one is a woman.

Certainly, public servants perform well, badly or in between, regardless of gender. Nonetheless, our nation’s 240-year-old democracy is long overdue to tap into the abilities of a demographic group that accounts for half its population. Without significantly intensified action to recruit more women to seek public office, a 50-50 balance in Congress will not happen until 2117, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The United States and Indiana can do better.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.