Girl power

With a record number of women running for office, the national rate of female representation in legislature may be on the rise

The #MeToo movement has empowered women to take back the narrative on harassment and discrimination. It also could give them real power in making laws and policy.

A record number of women are running for office around the country this year. Nevada and Arizona are on the verge of becoming the first state legislatures in the country to be female-majority and many observers say at least seven other legislatures could have a power flip due to women candidates.

State offices are seeing the biggest surge in female candidates, which many say is a result of gridlock in Washington, with states having to pick up the slack in passing laws. It also serves as a proving ground for higher office.

“Who serves in state government matters,” Pennsylvania state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky told U.S. News & World Report. Her district abuts that of a Republican representative who has been accused of sexual harassment by two women, but GOP leadership has taken no action to force him out. “The male-dominated legislature we’ve got right now isn’t going to (address) the issues that matter to women. It’s shocking. I have an MBA. I ran an organization that helped business coalitions before I ran for office. And the Pennsylvania House is the most misogynistic environment I’ve ever been in.”

Congressional races are also featuring higher participation by women, especially among Democrats who have more women than ever running for House seats, which could, in turn, have an impact on whether Democrats take control of the chamber in the November elections.

Female representation in the Massachusetts congressional delegation has never been higher with women holding 27 percent of the offices, including one of the two Senate seats. That, though, comes at a time when the number of seats in the House has been reduced to just nine, with US Reps. Katherine Clark and Niki Tsongas holding two of the seats and Tsongas set to step down.

Part of the fuel for candidacies around the country is the money and endorsement from EMILY’s List, but the pro-abortion rights group is not wading into any races here at this time. That includes staying on the sidelines in the primary race between US Rep. Michael Capuano and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who has been recognized previously by the political action committee as a “Rising Star.”

But while the gender wave flows across the country, Massachusetts is still treading water, neither the best nor the worst when it comes to females in elected offices. Women hold four of the six constitutional offices in the state but, as everyone knows, there has never been an elected female governor.

State Sen. Karen Spilka is set to become the third female Senate president out of the last four after more than 220 years of male dominance, but she’ll oversee a chamber that is only about 25 percent women. In fact, women hit a high-water mark of 12 of the Senate’s 40 seats in 2001 but have never gone over that or dropped below 11 since.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

The House has roughly the same make-up, though female Republican representatives have seen their ranks drop from a high of 13 in 1996 to single digits at the turn of the millennium and hover between seven and nine the past half-dozen years. Democratic women have stayed steady as well.

Overall, the Legislature has stayed on par with the national average of 25 percent female representation and that doesn’t appear to be changing come the fall. What may change is the national rate, which would put the state behind the curve.