Monday, January 07, 2013

Women Winning, Not In Iowa

As Iowa politics watchers well know, our state and Mississippi are the last two states which have never elected a woman to Congress or as governor. (It's impossible for me to emphasize enough just how big a deal this is to Democratic Party activists.)

The other state that leads off the presidential nominating process, New Hampshire, has reached the opposite end. The governor, both senators, and both US House members are women, for the nation's first all-female delegation.

So how'd it happen? One theory: Amateur politics.
In a state with an abnormally large, unpaid legislature, the ground-level civic engagement that has always been the province of stay-at-home-moms — school boards, letter-writing campaigns — becomes the work of low-rent state legislators. These positions carry less of the fanfare or pay that come with legislatures in almost any other state. But they do something else: They offer a path past a glass ceiling that, in other states, can block women with similar career paths from running for Congress from their perches on, say, school boards or community groups.

The result is hard to argue with: Women wield virtually all of the political power in the state.
Maybe. But Iowa has a seasonal, "citizen" legislature, in contrast to other states where legislators have large staffs and year-round sessions. So why hasn't it worked here as a stepping stone to bigger things? Why is lieutenant governor, a tool for gender-balancing the ticket since we went to a ticket-style election two decades ago, the de facto glass ceiling? Is is some unique sexism, or just happenstance?

My bet is it's a cultural thing in Mississippi. Note that in neighboring Alabama, the one female governor was Lurleen Wallace subbing for her term-limited husband George, and the female Senator was a widow.

But I argued a long while back in two parts that the defeat of women in high-profile Iowa races was a combination of the individual circumstances of those races. That was 2005, and I'd contend that the same applies to the three most prominent female candidates since.

Hillary Clinton's shadow looms large over the 2016 field, as does her 2008 Iowa failure. I believe she lost for reasons that were uniquely Iowan, yet not gender-based. Her loss was more a result of her presumptive nominee attitude and her thinly-veiled contempt for the retail nature of the caucuses. But I think Iowans are more than willing to give her another shot after her outstanding job as America's ambassador to the world. I know I am. But: No matter how many world leaders you've dined with, to win Iowa you still have to go to the East Pole Bean casserole supper.

Roxanne Conlin in 2010 and Christie Vilsack in 2012 had difficult races. Conlin was also battling a bad election cycle for Democrats, yet ran the most serious-ever challenge to Chuck Grassley.

Vilsack was battling a bad district and yes I'll say it again probably would have won in the Des Moines based 3rd CD where she lived on Map Day. She took one for the team and remains a viable candidate for something else. Indeed, I think that was the plan all along.

1 comment:

Mayor Fritz said...

Not my district, but was there a Meeks-Something running in Eastern Iowa for Congress in 08 and 10? I suppose a Republican woman doesn't count as a woman in the world of leftward consideration.