Where are the Women? Strategically Moving South Carolina Out of Last Place in Legislative Gender Representation
24 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 25 Sep 2009
Date Written: 2009
For the first time in nearly three decades, there are no women in the South Carolina state senate. There are only 17 women in the 124-member state house. South Carolina ranks 50th in the proportion of women serving in its state legislature - an ignominious title it has held since 2003 (see Figure 1 and Table 1). Unlike other states in the southeast region, South Carolina has lost ground in recent years relative to bottom-dwelling peers like Alabama, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Pennsylvania (CAWP, 2009). Just as the state legislature is a pipeline of sorts for statewide or federal elective office, local political offices feed the state’s General Assembly. In 2008, women held just 22.4 percent of all available elective office in the state and not one constitutional office. Women make up 12 percent of the mayors; hold just 13 percent of the county council seats, and twenty-nine percent of the city council seats (Gordon, 2008). To date, although five women from South Carolina have been sent to the House of Representatives, only one has ever been elected in her own right (Elizabeth Patterson-D, 1989-1993). Only three women have been elected to statewide constitutional offices. Nancy Stevenson served as Lt. Governor (1979-1983) and two women have been elected state superintendent of education (Republican Barbara Nielsen, 1991-1999; Democrat Inez Tenenbaum, 2000-2007). No woman has ever represented South Carolina in the U.S. Senate nor has any women been elected Governor of the state.
Meanwhile, twelve states have met or surpassed the thirty percent threshold -- widely regarded as the tipping point for female participation to change an institution and shape the legislative agenda. In three states women hold over 35 percent of the seats (Colorado, New Hampshire, and Vermont). The New Hampshire state senate is the first state legislative chamber to have a female majority (13 women, 11 men). In Maine and New Hampshire, both the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate are female. Nationally five women lead their house chamber and five women lead a senate chamber (CAWP, 2009).
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