(WOMENSENEWS)–Voters went to the polls Tuesday to elect officials in five states, in an “off-year” election offering fewer numbers of female candidates than in years past.
The drop confirms a trend–first indicated in 2000–of a decline of female candidates in state-office races after three decades of small but steady gains, according to a recent report the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey.
In Virginia, for example, 23 women ran statewide this year, compared with 40 in 1999, the state’s top year for women candidates.
The center attributed the downturn in part to term limits (enacted in 16 states), but mainly to fewer women choosing to run. “Unless more women step up and run–whether in term-limited or non-term-limited states–the important gains we’ve made will be reversed,” said Center director Debbie Walsh in a statement released last week.
Women’s rights were high-profile issues in two hotly contested legislative races in Virginia and New Jersey where pro-choice Democratic women faced Republican anti-choice hardliners.
In Houston, two openly gay pro-choice women ran for different municipal offices. And in a race for San Francisco district attorney, the pro-choice female challenger charged the male incumbent with an unacceptably low rate of conviction in domestic-violence cases.
Each of these candidates was recommended by EMILY’s List, the Washington, D.C.-based political network that raises money for Democratic, pro-choice women running for governor and U.S. Congress, and provides campaign training and support for women interested in running for office at state and local levels.
The Wish List, the Washington, D.C., Republican pro-choice women’s fundraising organization, endorsed 16 candidates in municipal races in six states. In Tuesday’s state legislature races, The Wish List endorsed nine New Jersey women. Choice and other issues of particular concern to women have not become major campaign issues for any of The Wish List candidates, said the organization’s president Pat Carpenter.
Litmus Test on Religious Right
Back in 2001, Patti Morrissey was busy raising two daughters and working at the Pentagon as a consultant on information technology and national security issues. Though she had worked for two Republican members of congress, it wasn’t until she joined the Loudoun County Republicans that the growing power of the religious right’s agenda in the party became too much for her pro-choice beliefs. But it took incumbent Dick Black to motivate her to run as a pro-choice Democrat for his delegate seat in the 32nd District of Virginia.
Morrissey lost after taking 37 percent of the vote while her opponent garnered 52 percent.
Morrissey first challenged Black in 2001, so this was her second bid to unseat him.
“The criticality of this race, (is that) it’s a huge litmus test of whether the ‘religious right’ can continue to fool people,” Morrissey told Women’s eNews before the election.
Delegate Black told Women’s eNews that abortions are wrongfully performed when the mother is merely “distressed or unhappy.” Black said the “morning after” drugs (medications used within 72 hours of conception to prevent pregnancy) are “baby pesticide.”
“I think Roe v. Wade is in the same category as the Nazi’s final solution,” said Black. “I think it is an enormous disaster.”
With 15.7 percent of its state legislature female, Virginia ranks 43rd among U.S. states in its percentage of women in the state legislature, according to the center’s report.
Gender Charge in State Senate Race in New Jersey
Pro-choice challenger Blair MacInnes, a veteran teacher, lost her bid to unseat State Senator Tony Bucco. Press reports show her winning 45 percent of the vote against his 55-percent showing.
Bucco, a member of the Right to Life Committee, hired a campaign manager known to be a leader in a quasi-religious group called People of Hope that advocates the active submission of women, discourages females from attending college and prohibits women from wearing pants or cosmetics. The manager, Dan Gallic, was quoted in Morristown’s Morris Newsbee in late September saying of MacInnes: “The only thing that makes her legitimate is her husband or her husband’s money.”
“I and many others were offended by that remark,” said MacInnes, who has worked with youth and educational nonprofit groups and serves on the Drew University board of trustees. She spoke with Women’s eNews before the election.
MacInnes also questioned Bucco’s use of $10,535 in tax dollars to help pay for his legal defense in a sexual-harassment suit filed earlier this year, a payment reported in the Daily Record newspaper. Planned Parenthood endorsed MacInnes, describing Bucco as “an anti-choice extremist.”
Challenger and pro-choice Democrat Ellen Karcher (endorsed by EMILY’s List), campaigning on ethics issues, defeated 23-year state senator (and Republican co-president of the senate) John Bennett for the district 12 seat. Karcher’s victory is key to the new Democrat majority in the New Jersey state senate.
New Jersey ranks 39th among the states in the percentage of women in its legislature, with 16.7 percent of its body female, according to the Center for American Women and Politics study.
Gay Women Lead in Two City Races
Three-term Houston city councilmember Annise Parker led the field in the race for city controller, the city’s second-most-powerful post, and will face the second-place finisher Bruce Tatro in the December run-off. She has 20 years financial experience in the oil-and-gas industry and is running as a pro-choice and openly gay candidate who is proud of her two daughters and partner Kathy Hubbard.
Businesswoman Sue Lovell, running on a pro-choice platform in her first race for Houston city council at large, failed to make the run-off. She is author of an award-winning, innovative welfare-to-work program that brought in teachers, transportation resources and on-site child care to create 500 jobs for the women at a new suburban mall. Lovell is the first openly gay person elected to the Democratic Executive Committee in Texas and the first such Texan to serve on the Democratic National Committee.
Both the veteran and the newcomer, according to Grant Martin, campaign consultant for them both, drew “minimal whispers” on the gay issue. “For gay and lesbian candidates to be viable here, they have to be highly accomplished, more so than heterosexual candidates,” said Martin.
With 19.3 percent of its state legislature female, Texas ranks 32nd among U.S. states in its percentage of women in the state legislature, the center’s study reports.
Domestic Violence Issue in San Francisco Race
In a heated California race, pro-choice attorney Kamala Harris finished second in a race for San Francisco district attorney. She made domestic violence an issue, claiming that, compared to a state average of 85 percent, only 45 percent of all felony domestic-abuse cases brought to her opponent’s office were prosecuted. Incumbent Terence Hallinan–now facing Harris in the December run-off–said his prosecution efforts include a greatly expanded domestic violence case staff.
In the center’s report, California ranks sixth among the states, with 30 percent women in its state legislature.
EMILY’s List did not make an endorsement in Mississippi, a state with no Planned Parenthood clinic. Two women there competed for the state’s second highest office and incumbent Lieutenant Governor Amy Tuck, who is strongly anti-choice, defeated her Democratic challenger, State Senator Barbara Blackmon, an attorney.
Blackmon had been credited with a pro-choice position but in October, following Tuck’s endorsement by the National Right to Life group, Blackmon upset pro-choice advocates and many observers by announcing she was signing an affidavit attesting she had never had an abortion, challenging Tuck to do the same.
Mississippi ranks 46th nationally in percentage of women in its legislature, with 12.6 percent female representation. Washington State leads all others with 36.7 percent female legislators. South Carolina is in last place with 9.4 percent, the center’s study reports.