The number of women in the Maine Legislature has reached an all-time high. Currently, 63 women serve in the Maine House and Senate, 34 percent of the total.
While this is well above the national average of 25 percent, women make up 51 percent of the state’s population, so they remain underrepresented, especially in Washington. Women hold less than 20 percent of the seats in Congress. In 2016, the U.S. ranked 97th in the world for women’s representation in government. In 1997, the U.S. ranked 52nd.
So, it is good news that record numbers of women are running for office in Maine and across the country. Nearly 200 women are registered to run as challengers in primaries for the U.S. House of Representatives. In November, the number of women on the Bangor City Council rose from one to three on the nine-member panel.
The fact that women remain so underrepresented in their government isn’t just a matter of equality but also of improving how government works.
Research shows that when women are elected to public office, they are more likely to advocate for so-called women’s issues, such as expanded health care for children, family leave and care policies, increased funding for cancer research and anti-discrimination laws. But “women’s issues” is a misnomer. These aren’t issues that solely affect women; they affect all Americans and our economy.
In addition to sponsoring more legislation related to family issues, the involvement of women in their government has an impact on how it works. Women tend to be more collaborative and model bipartisanship and civility. Think Sen. Susan Collins working to end government shutdowns and Senate breakdowns over judicial nominations. They also inspire other women and young girls to seek elective office and other jobs traditionally considered to be in the men’s realm.
Maine Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, co-founded She Leads to support Republican women with political aspirations with training and support five years ago.
“It really made a difference to me to get a woman’s perspective,” Espling, the Assistant House Minority Leader, told the Portland Press Herald. She is running for a state Senate seat this fall.
A similar recruitment and training effort on the Democratic side, Emerge Maine, has seen a big increase in the number of women signing up for its programs and running for office. Nationally, Emily’s List, another group dedicated to electing women, has fielded 26,000 web inquiries from women interested in running for office. In the last election cycle, the group was in contact with 960 women.
There are many reasons for the surge in interest. Some women are tired of sitting on the sidelines as politicians, especially men, make decisions with which they disagree. Some feel misrepresented by their current legislators and members of Congress. Others are empowered by movements like #MeToo that are spotlighting the mistreatment of women in workplaces and other venues.
Whatever the reason, having more women involved in making decisions about the future of our state and country is a good thing.
“If we care about taking advantage of all the skills and diversity of perspectives in our population, then we should care about seeing both parties nominate and elect more women,” Christina Wolbrecht, a political scientist at Notre Dame University, told Vox.
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