Pos­i­tive in­flu­ences

Num­ber of women in state Leg­is­la­ture grows

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

This year, come June, will mark 100 years since the United State Se­nate de­liv­ered a key vote in the cam­paign to em­power women with a con­sti­tu­tional right to vote through- out the na­tion. It took un­til 1920 for the 19th Amend­ment to be rat­i­fied by enough states to be­come the law of the land.

We couldn’t help but think of that vi­tal piece of Amer­i­can his­tory the other day as we read that this year’s Gen­eral Assem­bly, which be­gins meet­ing to­day in Lit­tle Rock, will fea­ture 32 women among the state’s 135 law­mak­ers. That’s a record, ty­ing the mark set in 2009.

In the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, 25 women will be among the body’s 100 mem­bers. Eight of those are mem­bers from our neck of the woods, such as Char­lene Fite of Van Buren, Nicole Clowney of Fayet­teville, Denise Gar­ner of Fayet­teville, Jana Della Rosa of Rogers, Me­gan God­frey of Spring­dale, Robin Lund­strum of Elm Springs, Gayla Hen­dren McKen­zie of Gravette and Re­becca Petty of Rogers.

The Se­nate will have seven women among its 35 mem­bers, in­clud­ing Rogers’ Ce­cile Bled­soe.

With­out a doubt, a higher num­ber of women is a great devel­op­ment for leg­isla­tive lead­er­ship in the state. Among Arkansas’ 3 mil­lion res­i­dents, 50.9 per­cent are fe­male. It only makes sense that their voices and is­sues will be far more likely to gain at­ten­tion when they make up a higher per­cent­age of law­mak­ers.

Clowney noted how her daugh­ter once asked if serv­ing in the Leg­is­la­ture is a job for men only. That cer­tainly has been the case at times. Nat­u­rally, when peo­ple of any gen­der or back­ground see some­one like them serv­ing in lead­er­ship, it helps to chip away at real or per­ceived bar­ri­ers to their own per­cep­tions of what’s pos­si­ble.

What kind of im­pact will it have on the poli­cies of the state? Oh, that’s a much more dif­fi­cult ques­tion to an­swer. Among North­west Arkansas’ women in the Leg­is­la­ture, six are Repub­li­cans and three are Democrats. And the three Democrats are all rook­ies, hav­ing just tak­ing of­fice this month.

Party iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is un­doubt­edly a strong in­flu­ence on pol­icy. No­body should sud­denly ex­pect a Repub­li­can and Demo­crat to see eye to eye just be­cause they both hap­pen to be women.

Still, schol­arly stud­ies sug­gest women of all po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sions are far more likely than men to bring for­ward con­cerns and leg­is­la­tion af­fect­ing is­sues im­por­tant to women — health care, child care, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, sex­ual as­sault, child sup­port, pay eq­uity, ed­u­ca­tion, hu­man traf­fick­ing and the like.

When Arkansas law­mak­ers de­scend on Lit­tle Rock for a ses­sion, their con­stituents usu­ally have no way of know­ing how many bills will be filed and what qual­ity they will be. That’s prob­a­bly go­ing to re­main true no mat­ter what the gen­der makeup of the body is.

But we can’t help but be­lieve the in­flu­ence of women leg­is­la­tors on state gov­ern­ment will be pos­i­tive.

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