Despite diverse demographics, majority of elected posts still held by white men
The Reflective Democracy Campaign’s latest survey of elected officials in Wisconsin and across the United States finds representation is not at all reflective of state and national demographics.
Consider Wisconsin’s population demographics:
• 41 percent white men, 42 percent white women, and 9 percent each women and men of color.
Now consider Wisconsin’s population of elected officials:
• 71 percent white men, 26 percent white women, 2 percent men of color, and 1 percent women of color.
On the RDC’s National Representation Index, Wisconsin was rated 3.2X — meaning white men have over three times the representation of other groups. The index measures political power by race and gender, comparing the demographics of the state’s population to its elected officials and adjusting for level of office.
Nationwide, the campaign says white men make up 31 percent of the population and hold 65 percent of elected offices. About 25 percent of elected offices are held by white women, 7 percent are held by men of color and 4 percent by women of color.
At the federal level, 81 percent of elected officeholders are white and 80 percent are male.
“The imbalance of power points to a profound failure of our democracy, which has relegated 70 percent of Americans to a special interest group,” said RDC executive director Brenda Carter. “That’s how an all-male Senate committee decides whether birth control will be covered by health insurance or how an essentially allwhite commission determines the future of voting rights for people of color.”
Gerrymandering, voter-suppression legislation such as Wisconsin’s photo ID law, and other policies and regulations are reasons for the concentration of power among white men, according to RDC.
But RDC also raised concerns about the gatekeepers — the politicians and major donors, who decide which candidates to put on the ballots.
“We can’t expect the American people to have faith in a system that doesn’t reflect them,” Carter said.
WORKING TO ENCOURAGE DIVERSITY
In Wisconsin, a number of organizations are working to encourage diversity on the ballot by recruiting and training potential candidates, especially for local and legislative offices.
One such group is the Kenosha-based Women Empowered, which is organizing a training session Nov. 18 for candidates considering campaigns for the spring primary Feb. 20, 2018, the spring election April 3 and the midterm election next November.
At a WE forum Oct. 28 at the Bradford Community Church Unitarian Universalist in Kenosha, former Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton, Kenosha County Supervisor Leah Blough, school board member Rebecca Stevens and former Kenosha Ald. Katherine Marks talked about their experiences running for office and holding office.
And WE shared some local statistics that reflect what’s in the RDC survey: Of 23 county supervisor seats, only four are held by women. Women hold three of seven seats on the school board. And no women sit on Kenosha’s 17-member city council.