Leg­is­la­ture, other of­fices gain fe­male per­spec­tive

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Yvonne Wenger

Sarah El­freth woke up the day af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion and re­al­ized all of the peo­ple rep­re­sent­ing her in gov­ern­ment — from An­napo­lis city coun­cil and the Mary­land leg­is­la­ture to Congress and the pres­i­dent — were men. She vowed then to run for of­fice.

Two years later, af­ter knock­ing on some 12,000 doors, El­freth, 30, was elected to rep­re­sent Anne Arun­del County in the state Se­nate. The Demo­crat will join the largest con­tin­gent of women law­mak­ers in the Gen­eral Assem­bly’s his­tory, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by its women’s cau­cus.

Sev­enty-one women won elec­tion to the Mary­land leg­is­la­ture Tues­day — about 30 of them new to the House and Se­nate — as part of a surge of suc­cess­ful women can­di­dates across the coun­try that shat­tered glass ceil­ings for gen­der, race and re­li­gion.

Over­all, Mary­land will see a net gain of seven more women when the leg­is­la­ture re­con­venes in Jan­uary. And the in­crease in fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion is not only in the State House: the Anne Arun­del County

Coun­cil went from hav­ing no women to a ma­jor­ity, Prince Ge­orge’s County elected its first fe­male ex­ec­u­tive and Car­roll County sent a woman for the first time as a judge on its Cir­cuit Court.

“I hate the term ‘pink wave’: This is less of a wave and more of a right­ing of the ship,” El­freth said. “This is just right­ing that bal­ance more than any­thing else.”

Ad­vo­cates say elect­ing more women to of­fice did not hap­pen by ac­ci­dent. Na­tional and lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Emily’s List, She Should Run and Emerge Mary­land have been re­cruit­ing, train­ing and help­ing women or­ga­nize. That pipe­line con­tributed to a boom in women run­ning for of­fice. Oth­ers also point to Trump’s elec­tion and the Women’s March move­ment — which ral­lied hun­dreds of thou­sands on his first day in of­fice — as in­spir­ing more women to file as can­di­dates.

“Our democ­racy is stronger when di­verse per­spec­tives are rep­re­sented,” said Martha McKenna, who founded Emerge Mary­land. “We should have as many moms as we have dads in the leg­is­la­ture and as many women as men. Our rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy is stronger if it is ac­tu­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

“Women’s life ex­pe­ri­ences and per­spec­tives are valu­able in pol­icy mak­ing.”

De­spite Tues­day’s gains, men still dom­i­nate elected of­fice across the state.

Mary­land has no women in its con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion, and 63 per­cent of its state leg­is­la­tors will be men. Men will con­tinue to hold the ex­ec­u­tive’s of­fice in each of the coun­ties that sur­round Bal­ti­more City. The Har­ford County Coun­cil is all male, as is the board of com­mis­sion­ers in Car­roll County. Just three of 15 mem­bers on the Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil are women. The Bal­ti­more County Coun­cil will have one fe­male mem­ber of seven when the new term starts.

The state has many glass ceil­ings still in­tact. No woman has ever been elected gover­nor, and the pow­er­ful House speaker and the Se­nate pres­i­dent po­si­tions have al­ways been held by men.

McKenna said that while more needs to be done to reach par­ity be­tween the sexes, she sees the net­work of women run­ning for of­fice in Mary­land — and sup­port­ing one an­other as they run — grow­ing ex­po­nen­tially. She said women are en­cour­ag­ing each other to file, vol­un­teer­ing for each other’s cam­paigns and help­ing one an­other raise money.

“It’s lead­er­ship,” McKenna said, “If you want to run, let’s do it to­gether and let’s or­ga­nize.”

When women run for of­fice they have as much a chance of win­ning as men do, said Katie Fis­cher Ziegler, a pro­gram man­ager at the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures. She an­a­lyzes data about gen­der in pol­i­tics for the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Women's Leg­isla­tive Net­work. The pool of fe­male Sen­a­tor-elect Sarah El­freth of An­napo­lis is greeted by a sup­porter, Sharon Kennedy, dur­ing a visit to the State House. El­freth de­cided to run for of­fice when she re­al­ized ev­ery­one rep­re­sent­ing her in gov­ern­ment was a man. can­di­dates for of­fice has his­tor­i­cally grown very slowly, but Tues­day’s elec­tion vic­to­ries are a sign of the cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect na­tion­ally

record num­ber of women will serve in Congress. More than 100 were elected to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives this week as far more women ran. Among them are two Lati­nas from Texas, two Mus­lim women from Michi­gan and Min­nesota, a les­bian Na­tive Amer­i­can from Kansas and AfricanAmer­i­can women from Con­necti­cut and Mas­sachusetts — all firsts for their states.

Women had pre­vi­ously never held more than 84 of the 435 seats in the House.

In state leg­is­la­tures, Ziegler said more women will be serv­ing than ever be­fore. A pre­lim­i­nary anal­y­sis shows nearly 2,075 women will oc­cupy seats in the 50 leg­is­la­tures, an in­crease of more than 190 from the 2018 ses­sion, she said. That means women will be 28 per­cent of all state leg­is­la­tors, an in­crease of 3 per­cent.

Ziegler said the last time state leg­is­la­tures saw this num­ber of women win elec­tion was 1992. It is still known as the “Year of the Woman,” when the per­cent­age jumped from about 18 per­cent to about 20 per­cent, she said.

Go­ing into 2019, Ne­vada will have the high­est per­cent­age of women leg­is­la­tors — more than half, Ziegler said. But Mary­land’s share of women leg­is­la­tors puts the state among the top for fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

With 71 of the 188 seats in Mary­land’s House and Se­nate to be held by women, they will make up 38 per­cent. Sixty-one of the 71 are Democrats.

The women’s cau­cus anal­y­sis shows that the high­est num­ber of fe­male leg­is­la­tors pre­vi­ously — 67 — served dur­ing the 2005 and 2006 ses­sions.

Del. Sheree Sam­ple-Hughes, pres­i­dent of the women’s cau­cus, said when women serve in of­fice they con­trib­ute key per­spec­tives on top­ics from qual­ity child care to the econ­omy. She pointed to the work of women leg­is­la­tors in the pas­sage of a bill that in­creased the buy­ing power of state­backed child care vouch­ers, as one ex­am­ple. Data show women are more likely than men in elected of­fice to ad­vo­cate for poli­cies in­volv­ing health care, ed­u­ca­tion and an as­sort­ment of fam­ily mat­ters.

“When we sup­port a pol­icy, it does make a dif­fer­ence,” said Sam­ple-Hughes, a Demo­crat who rep­re­sents Dorch­ester and Wi­comico coun­ties.

In the up­com­ing ses­sion, pri­or­i­ties for the cau­cus in­clude sup­port­ing women vet­er­ans and fam­ily care­tak­ers and en­sur­ing they have eco­nomic se­cu­rity, Sam­pleHughes said.

El­freth said the leg­is­la­tion she will ad­vo­cate for in An­napo­lis will be re­flec­tive of the feed­back she gets from the peo­ple who live in her dis­trict. From the health of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay to strong early ed­u­ca­tion, what mat­ters to the pub­lic are not “fe­male” or “male” is­sues, she said.

But no mat­ter the topic, El­freth said, her per­spec­tive will al­ways be shaped by be­ing a woman. And bring­ing a di­ver­sity of ex­pe­ri­ence has the power to change the state for the good, she said.

The words she heard dur­ing a lec­ture about women in of­fice as a Tow­son Univer­sity un­der­grad­u­ate ring in her ear: “If you’re ca­pa­ble and you’re pas­sion­ate, it’s your obli­ga­tion to run for of­fice,” El­freth said. “That has stuck with mefor a very long time.”

AMY DAVIS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Sarah El­freth of An­napo­lis, in her first bid for of­fice, won the Se­nate race in Anne Arun­del County’s Dis­trict 30. She is one of 71 women who won elec­tion to the Mary­land leg­is­la­ture on Tues­day.

AMY DAVIS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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