Number of women in state Legislature grows
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.