On one level, 2006 has been a great year for womens’ political empowerment, with Nancy Pelosi set to serve as the first woman Speaker of the House in the new congress. After that, however, women’s gains were modest, according to statistics compiled by the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP). Women added two new U.S. Senators (both Democrats) and one governor. With two congressional races still to be decided, women increased their numbers in the House of Reps by less than one percent.
In terms of statewide elective offices, women actually lost two seats nationwide (from 78 in ’04 to 76 in ’06). Women recorded a small gain in the nation’s state legislatures, picking up 46 seats, for a new nation-wide total of 1,732. If there is any consolation in these figures, it is that Democrats did much better than Republicans, with Dems now holding 68 percent of women’s legislative seats. As CAWP Director Debbie Walsh explains:
What’s most notable for 2007 is the growing party disparity, with more than twice as many Democrats as Republican lawmakers…We’re concerned that, with state legislatures providing a vital pipeline to higher offices, we’ll see fewer Republican women positioned to move up.
When the new elected officials take office, women’s share of political offices in the U.S. will be:
U.S. Senators 16%
House Members 16.3 % (pending two undecided races)
State Legislators 23%
The Dems’ strong majority of women office-holders notwithstanding, the total figures are still less than impressive. The clear challenge for all national, state and local Democratic organizations is to recruit, train and support more women candidates.