For years women’s groups in the state have expressed concern about the lack of women in the Wyoming legislature. But it has rarely been this bad. Currently the state ranks 46th with women making up 14 percent.
In 2006 the Wyoming women’s legislative caucus was formed to not only support the 14 women serving in the state legislature, but to also recruit female candidates to run for office. It hasn’t gone well. Melissa Turley is the Caucus Coordinator.
“Unfortunately we find ourselves today in 2014 with only 13 women in the legislature. So while we’ve set out to increase our numbers, we’ve seen a decline.”
They did get up to 21 women lawmakers in 2008, which was the largest number since 1994…but it fell down again after the next election. Senator Bernadine Craft of Rock Springs is one of two women serving in the State Senate. She says it’s not that voters don’t want to vote for women.
“We find that if women run for office, they are every bit as likely as men to get elected as men are. It’s that women choose not to run.”
According to the women’s caucus, research shows that men are more likely to consider themselves qualified to run for office. That same research shows that when women are asked, they have to be asked several times. Craft and Representative Ruth Ann Petroff of Jackson both say that was true of themselves. Petroff says identifying potential women and encouraging them to run is important, but that’s not the entire solution.
Petroff notes that she doesn’t have children and she believes that makes a huge difference. She says women who do have a difficult time leaving their families, especially their children for a month or two when school is in session.
“I mean you look at the only two women in office who have school aged children, both live in Cheyenne. We don’t have air service, there are long distances to travel, it’s winter travel. So in addition to all of the other factors that would be true anywhere, Wyoming is a little more difficult.”
Petroff says one simple fix could help.
“I think child care would be a major plus in attracting women into the state legislature.”
Another factor are the jobs women hold. The legislature is dominated by people who can work on the road such as attorneys, small business owners or those with management positions, and even people who are retired. Marguerite Herman of the League of Women Voters say few women can leave their jobs during the session, not to mention the many days they have to be on the road for committee meetings. Herman says the workload for legislators has increased over the last several years.
“And I think women are in less of a position job wise and family wise to take that much time off.”
Herman says single Moms and women of all ages would help diversify the legislature.
“Legislators I think would have more grounded debate, I think they would appreciate the viewpoint of others more if they had somebody to stand up on the floor and say yes…but listen to this.”
It’s not just the legislature either. A report came out this week from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University and others that showed that white men hold 60 percent of all elected offices in the state at the city, county, and state levels, while only making up 43 percent of the population. Herman says it’s clear that diversity of all kinds is needed. Representative Petroff says diversity would contribute to better legislation.
“Policies and just stronger and smarter when our entire population is represented and I think women have a different style of leadership, a different style of participation and I enjoy working with all of the women in the legislature and I would love to see more of them.”
It’s possible that 4 more women could join the legislative ranks on Tuesday, but they will remain under represented for another two years.