The Number of Women in Politics is Finally Increasing
We're still far behind other countries, but at least the numbers are increasing. This is from the National Women's Law Center:
The 110th Congress will include record numbers of women - at a minimum 86 women will come to Washington in January, 2007 to serve as Senators or members of the House of Representatives. For the first time in American history, the House of Representatives is poised to be led by a woman Speaker of the House Representatives, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California. In the House, at least 57 women incumbents were re-elected (42 Democrats and 15 Republicans), and of the new members elected to Congress, at least ten are women (8 Democrats and 2 Republicans). Of the races that remain undecided at this time, three races feature women as both the incumbent and challenger, and one race features women challengers.
The 110th Congress will also have the greatest number of women Senators of any Congress - 16 women (11 Democrats and 5 Republicans). All six incumbent women who were running for re-election are returning, and of the ten new Senators, two are women: Amy Klobuchar, D-MN and Claire McCaskill, D-MO.
One important characteristic many new House members, both male and female, share is that just over half of them have never served in a statewide legislative body. With so many new House members, and so many of those without prior legislative experience, there will be many members who will especially benefit from outreach and education on public policy issues that matter to women.
Some Key Ballot Initiatives
A number of state ballot initiatives also were presented for voter consideration on Election Day, and many that were of particular importance to women - including increasing the minimum wage, expanding access to child care and early education, guaranteeing minimum days of paid sick leave, imposing oppressive caps on spending, and imposing harsh restrictions on access to reproductive health services - were decided with a positive result for women. However, proponents of affirmative action policies were dealt a heavy defeat in Michigan.
CHILD CARE AND EARLY EDUCATION
Voters in Arizona and Nebraska approved ballot measures to expand funding for early care and education programs, while Massachusetts voters rejected a measure to allow some child care providers to bargain collectively with state agencies about issues related to child care services under the state's child care assistance program. The Arizona measure increases cigarette taxes by eighty cents to fund a range of early childhood measures, including improving pre-school quality. The Nebraska initiative amends the state constitution to create a public-private partnership to establish an early childhood education endowment. The annual interest on the endowment, approximately $3 million annually, will be used to fund early learning programs for children from birth to age three. Meanwhile, a local initiative in Denver to increase sales taxes to raise funds for preschool appears to have passed narrowly, but as yet remains undecided.
Voters in three states rejected harmful ballot initiatives that threatened the health of women and girls. South Dakota's proposed ban on virtually all abortions - with no exceptions for abortions even for rape, incest, or to protect the health of the woman - was rejected 56-44%. Voters in California and Oregon rejected initiatives that would have put the health and safety of teenagers in danger by requiring them to notify a parent before securing abortion services. In both states, the initiatives failed by 54-46%.
Voters in 6 states - Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio - considered ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage in those states by as little as $1 and as much as $1.70 per hour. All six ballot measures passed, in most states with overwhelming support. These initiatives indicate that there is support for increasing the federal minimum wage (currently $5.15 per hour), which the presumptive Democratic leadership of the House and Senate have indicated will be a priority to enact in the 110th Congress. The federal minimum wage has not been increased in ten years and the buying power of the federal minimum wage is at its lowest level in 51 years. Two-thirds of workers over age 16 who work at or below the minimum wage are women.
PAID SICK LEAVE
San Francisco voters approved a first-of-its-kind ballot measure guaranteeing all workers in San Francisco the right to a certain amount of paid sick leave to care for themselves, their families and their partners. Businesses with 10 or fewer employees would have to provide 5 days of leave; businesses with more than 10 employees would have to provide 9 days.
Three states - Maine, Nebraska, and Oregon - rejected dangerous ballot initiatives that would tightly cap state spending, put the squeeze on state budgets year after year, and force cuts in services vital to women and their families, also known as TABOR initiatives or Taxpayers Bill of Rights. After rejecting a similar measure two years ago, Maine voters again turned down TABOR, and Nebraska and Oregon voters also rejected the measures.
However, Michigan voters dealt women and girls a setback when they approved an anti-affirmative action ballot initiative. The initiative bans affirmative action in public education, employment and contracting throughout the state of Michigan, jeopardizes the ability of publicly funded universities in the state to attract and maintain diverse student populations, and threatens scholarships and financial aid for women and minorities. Sponsors of the anti-affirmative action initiative promise to bring similar ballot measures across the country, while opponents of the measure filed a federal lawsuit challenging the measure as unconstitutional.