Af­ter Adopt­ing Term Lim­its, States Lose Fe­male Leg­is­la­tors

The Washington Post Sunday - - Politics - By Peter Slevin

CHICAGO — Jo Ann David­son re­mem­bers feel­ing op­ti­mistic that term lim­its would land more women in Ohio’s leg­is­la­ture, where 32 of the 132 seats were held by women in the mid-1990s. Yet in the seven years since the law took ef­fect, the fig­ure has fallen to 23.

And now women elected af­ter vot­ers im­posed eight-year term lim­its are sur­ren­der­ing seats be­cause of the rules. Of­ten, the posts are go­ing to men.

“It’s been hard to keep the num­bers up,” said David­son, who was Ohio’s first fe­male House speaker and now is co-chair of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee. “We pick them up by ones and twos and threes. When all of a sud­den you have 40-some seats open, you don’t have as many women step up as men to re­place them.”

Of women, she said: “They’re harder to re­cruit. They’re harder to con­vince to run.”

The phe­nom­e­non David­son de­scribed holds true across the coun­try, where term-lim­ited leg­is­la­tures with ris­ing num­bers of women are the ex­cep­tion. In fact, gains dur­ing the past 12 years have been slightly greater in states with­out term lim­its, ac­cord­ing to po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Gary Mon­crief.

“The ev­i­dence has shown that it has had ab­so­lutely no pos­i­tive ef­fect at all,” said Mon­crief, a Boise State Univer­sity pro­fes­sor who pre­dicted 15 years ago that term lim­its would in­crease rep­re­sen­ta­tion for women. “The logic was im­pec­ca­ble, the em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence not at all. The prob­lem is there aren’t as many women run­ning as we ex­pected.”

In a po­lit­i­cal year that fea­tures Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as the first fe­male House speaker and Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton (D-N.Y.) as the most prom­i­nent fe­male pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in his­tory, politi­cians and in­ter­est groups are puz­zling over ways to ad­vance the prospects of women in state cap­i­tals.

“It’s like bail­ing. We’re do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to keep up with the leaks,” said Ra­mona Oliver, a spokes­woman for Emily’s List, which backs Demo­cratic women for of­fice. “Ul­ti­mately, the neg­a­tive im­pact is go­ing to be felt all the way up. If we don’t have num­bers of women grow­ing in the leg­is­la­ture, we’re not go­ing to be grow­ing women in the Congress.”

Dianne Byrum lost her Michi­gan House seat through term lim­its last year, just as she was poised to be­come the first fe­male speaker. She had al­ready been term-lim­ited out of the state Se­nate.

“I was the first wo­man in Michi­gan’s his­tory to ever lead a cau­cus, and not only lead that cau­cus, but take it to its best per­for­mance in 70 years,” Byrum said. “And I had to walk out the door.”

Byrum led the re­cruit­ing drive for House Democrats. In Novem­ber, Demo­cratic women scored a net gain of four seats — Byrum’s 28year-old daugh­ter won a race to re­place her — but Repub­li­cans lost two women in the House and three in the Se­nate, drop­ping women’s share of seats be­low 19 per­cent for the first time since 1992.

“We have a long ways to go,” Byrum said.

Term lim­its are in ef­fect in 15 states, in ev­ery re­gion of the coun­try. Cre­ated in the be­lief that they would make state­houses less hide­bound and more rep­re­sen­ta­tive, the rules re­main a topic of con­sid­er­able con­tro­versy, much of it about what ef­fect the turnover has on leg­isla­tive ef­fec­tive­ness.

In six states, term lim­its have been re­pealed by the leg­is­la­ture or killed by the courts.

Since 1995, the year be­fore the first lim­its were im­posed for state leg­is­la­tures, the per­cent­age of women in the leg­is­la­tures has grown from 20.6 per­cent to 23.5 per­cent, an in­crease of 200 seats na­tion­wide — on av­er­age, four per state.

The over­all in­crease in states with term lim­its, how­ever, has been smaller than in states with­out. The num­ber of women in the Michi­gan leg­is­la­ture, from the year be­fore term lim­its were en­acted to now, dropped from 34 to 29. Mis­souri went from 45 to 38, Ohio from 28 to 23 and Ari­zona from 32 to 31. In Florida, women held 38 seats in 2000 and 38 to­day.

A few states reg­is­tered gains, no­tably Cal­i­for­nia, where the num­ber of fe­male leg­is­la­tors climbed from 25 in 1995 to 34 to­day. Yet even in Sacra­mento, women oc­cupy just 28 per­cent of state­house seats.

“It’s a nice idea, ‘Well, the op­por­tu­ni­ties are there,’ but women haven’t stepped for­ward to take ad­van­tage of them,” said Susan J. Car­roll, a lead­ing re­searcher at the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Women and Pol­i­tics at Rut­gers Univer­sity. In most of the cases stud­ied, no fe­male can­di­dates sought to re­place women who were los­ing their seats to term lim­its.

“Re­cruit­ment is ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal,” Car­roll said. “It can be done by the party, it can be done by the women be­ing term-lim­ited out, it can be done by in­de­pen­dent or­ga­ni­za­tions, but it doesn’t seem to be be- ing done in a lot of places.”

Stud­ies show that women are less likely than men to run for of­fice on their own ini­tia­tive and less likely to try a sec­ond time if de­feated. They of­ten have greater fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties than men and tend to feel far less cer­tain that they are qual­i­fied, ac­cord­ing to a 2004 Brown Univer­sity study ti­tled “Why Don’t Women Run for Of­fice?”

“When we train women to run, the first thing they stand up and ask is, ‘Can you have a fam­ily and do this job?’ ” said Marie Wil­son, pres­i­dent of the non­par­ti­san White House Project. “It’s harder to get women to run if you don’t go out there and ask them specif­i­cally to run.”

Groups have worked for many years to in­crease the num­ber of women in po­lit­i­cal of­fice and to push them through the “mar­ble ceil­ing” from lower of­fices. A record num­ber of women hold seats on Capi­tol Hill — 16 in the Se­nate and 71 in the House, 16 per­cent in each cham­ber.

In Min­nesota, a state with­out term lim­its, women have in­creased their num­bers in the leg­is­la­ture from 50 to 70 since 1995, in­clud­ing a jump of 10 last year. House Speaker Mar­garet An­der­son Kel­li­her (D) cred­its two fac­tors: the grow­ing num­ber of electable fe­male can­di­dates and the promi­nence of is­sues such as ed­u­ca­tion and health care.

“There are more and more women who are serv­ing on lo­cal school boards, run­ning for city coun­cils and win­ning, and cre­at­ing a pipe­line,” Kel­li­her said. “The schol­arly lit­er­a­ture says it takes on av­er­age three times that a wo­man is asked to run for of­fice for her to do it. My sense is we’re maybe down to two times.”

Nei­ther Vir­ginia nor Mary­land has term lim­its for state leg­is­la­tors. Since 1995, rep­re­sen­ta­tion by women in Rich­mond has grown by half, to 17.1 per­cent; in An­napo­lis, the share climbed from 28.7 per­cent to 33 per­cent.

For those who want more women in of­fice, term lim­its con­tinue to of­fer op­por­tu­ni­ties along with chal­lenges. In Michi­gan, 110 seats — 57 held by Repub­li­cans, 43 by Democrats — will come open in the 2008 and 2010 elec­tions. Al­though the state has a fe­male gov­er­nor and a fe­male U.S. sen­a­tor, an­a­lysts agree that it will take work if women are to claim more seats in Lans­ing.

“The level of women’s lead­er­ship is some­what frag­ile,” said Kira San­bon­matsu, a se­nior scholar at the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Women and Pol­i­tics. “It’s not a fore­gone con­clu­sion that women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion will in­crease in the fu­ture. Staff writer Kari Ly­der­sen con­trib­uted to this re­port.


The suc­cesses of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left, and Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton en­cour­age ad­vo­cates for women.


Dianne Byrum led Democrats to a ma­jor­ity in the Michi­gan House but lost her seat through term lim­its.

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