icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Republican Women

You probably saw the scene – a dozen grim men walking into the White House to repeat their mantra that they were going to grind government to a halt. Despite all constitutional precedent, this minority thought that they could repeal the Affordable Health Care Act, a law passed three years ago by both the House and Senate, signed by the president, and upheld by the US Supreme Court.

They must have skipped junior high school civics and the whole concept of majority governance. We had an election about this less than a year ago, and they lost. But I don’t want to reiterate what you have been hearing for weeks now about the stubborn vanity of what passes for Republican leadership. I want to focus on the delegation that went to the White House, those eight men. I repeat, eight MEN.

Eight WHITE men, as there are no black Republicans in the current US House. No black Republican woman ever has been elected, and the two men who won in 2010 are gone -- although you wouldn’t know it by Florida’s Allen West, who continues his bomb-throwing barbs as though he hadn’t lost his reelection. The other, South Carolina’s Tim Scott, worked a deal with his state’s Jim DeMint; Scott was appointed to the Senate when DeMint resigned for the better salary at the Heritage Foundation.

The image of those eight white men walking into the White House reminded me of last year, when the House held hearings on birth control – with a committee composed of entirely white men. They even had the temerity to refuse testimony from a woman who wanted to put a female face on this issue that affects women infinitely more than men. A graduate of prestigious Cornell and Georgetown universities, Sandra Fluke did eventually speak – but only to Democratic members of the House.

Most of the public found this exclusion of women to be outrageous. Yet a year later, the party’s choice of colleagues to go to the White House shows that Republicans have not learned their lesson at all. They seem to think that government shutdown – or any congressional activity or non-activity – does not affect women. Or maybe they just think that women’s opinions don’t matter. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given that this is the same party that thought it was appropriate to exclude women from a panel on PREGNANCY.

But there was an election in between, and one would think that more of them would have noticed that they lost it, especially among female voters. We have been casting ballots for almost a century now, after all. The real mystery, though, is who are the Republican congresswomen -- and why don’t they rebel against leaders who so clearly dismiss women’s views?

* * *

Congressional Quarterly Press wanted my Women in American Politics: History and Milestones as soon as possible after the 2010 election. Thus it ended with the Tea Party’s dominance of that year, which, not coincidentally, also was a new nadir for the election of women from both parties. I knew that women did better in 2012 – we usually do in presidential years, when more people turn out to vote – but I had to do some research to get the current stats.

According to the non-partisan Center for Women in American Politics at Rutgers University, there now are 80 women among the 435 members of the US House. Yes, that’s still less than 20%. Worse, the footnote I made for my last list in the relevant chapter of the CQ work still holds true: almost a century after the first state (Montana) elected the first congresswoman (Jeannette Rankin, in 1916), there still are several states that NEVER have seen fit to send someone from the female half of their populations to represent them in the House of Representatives.

And no, these states that have failed to elect women (of any party) are not disproportionately in the South. In alphabetical order, they are Delaware (which has had a female governor); Iowa (which has no excuse); Mississippi (OK, it is the Southernmost of the Old South); New Hampshire (which has had both a governor and a senator); and Vermont (ditto re governor). North Dakota, which elected the first woman to a statewide office in 1892 and had the first female speaker of a state House in 1933 -- but has sent just one woman in Washington. And she was appointed, not elected, to a brief Senate vacancy back in 1992.

Alaska is singular in that it never has elected a woman to the House, but does have Lisa Murkowski in the Senate. A senatorial race there is no more difficult than a House race, as the population of the geographically huge state remains so small that it is entitled to just one House seat. Murkowski, a Republican, had the advantage of initially being appointed – by her father, who vacated the Senate seat when he became governor. Now that’s good family values!

* * *

Unlike the Senate, House members always are elected, never appointed. Currently, we have 80 women in the House, just 19 of whom are Republicans. That’s down from 24 Republican women in the previous Congress, as one woman retired; two lost their party’s nominations; and four lost the general election. (One of those losers was Mary Bono of California, whose husband, Connie Mack IV, also lost his Florida seat.)

The current Republican congresswomen mark a new historical phenomenon, as they do come disproportionately from Southern states. Of the 19, two are from Missouri, two from North Carolina, and two from Tennessee, while Alabama, Florida, and Texas account for one each.

That adds to ten, and most of the other nine Republican congresswomen represent states that are close to the South in attitudes. Two from Indiana, and one each from Kansas and West Virginia, totals 14 of the 19. Wyoming also has a woman as its sole member of the current US House. Wyoming, which granted women the vote in 1869 and had the first female governor in 1924 (a Democrat), is considered solidly Republican now, as is its Rep. Cynthia Lummis.

So when we add up the numbers, we have just five Republican women who won elections in states that are considered “purple” -- where both Republican “reds” and Democratic “blues” can win elections. Two of these Republican women are from the State of Washington, which has elected more women to more top offices than any other state. Another two recently were elected in Michigan and in South Dakota.

That totals 18. The 19th – you guessed it – is Michelle Bachman. She’s elected from Minnesota, a once-purple state that now is solidly blue in its top offices, but Bachman represents a rural area that has responded well to her red-meat message. That’s irrelevant now, though, as she has announced that she will not run again. It seems that she and her husband have not been paying their taxes – while accepting federal benefits that she hypocritically decries.

* * *

If Speaker John Boehner were smart (which he isn’t), he would have asked at least one of these 19 women to go to the White House with him. He might have even suggested that she wear a red suit, and he would have put her front and center to attract attention away from the grayness of his guys. But he can’t take Michelle anymore. He probably wouldn’t have wanted to anyway, as she can’t be trusted to stick to the script, even if that script is “no, no, no.”

Boehner’s options are limited, in fact, because Republican women do not have the same record as Democratic women about being reelected. Whether that’s because their party doesn’t fully back them or because their views are too extreme for the majority of constituents, the number of Republican women relative to Democratic women has been diminishing for a long time.

You can see it here in Florida, the national microcosm. A few years ago, we had fairly equal numbers, with Republicans Tillie Fowler of Jacksonville, Ginny Brown-Waite of Pasco, Sandy Adams of Seminole County, and Katherine Harris of Sarasota -- plus Miami’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who really represents anti-Castro Cuba.

Tillie Fowler was one of the few who took her “Eight is Enough” term-limit pledge seriously and retired. Brown-Waite also retired, although much less honorably: she waited until just hours before the filing deadline to make her announcement, having prearranged this with the man who replaced her. Adams lost the Republican nomination when Republicans in Tallahassee drew district lines that allowed a man to win their primary. And you know what happened to Katherine Harris. She is the veritable poster girl for the party’s lack of support for women. After being the chief person responsible for giving Dubya an election that he lost, he and his buddies treated her with callow ignominy.

Today, instead of those Republican women, Florida’s delegation includes Democrats Lois Frankel (Palm Beach); Frederica Wilson (Miami); Kathy Castor (Tampa); Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (Broward), and Corrine Brown (Jacksonville). Illeana Ros-Lehtinen is the only remaining Republican woman.

Outside of Florida, the pattern also is clear: Republican congresswomen don’t get reelected and thus don’t hold seniority in the way that Democratic congresswomen do. Indeed, of the 19 Republican women currently in the House, 17 were elected in 2000 or later, with five winning in 2010, the year of the Tea Party.

So, given these fairly limited options of few women and even fewer with long tenure, what Republican woman would I have chosen if I were Speaker Boehner?

Maybe the one who is geographically furthest from Washington, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of the other Washington, specifically Spokane. When they need diversity on a list, she sometimes is named as the fourth most powerful in the Republican caucus. Although considered a moderate when first elected, she has become increasingly a Tea Partier. The headline on her website prior to the shutdown was its typical hypocrisy, as she bragged about “bringing security and jobs to Eastern Washington’s mining industry” – as if that does not mean federal spending. But although she touts his line, the Speaker did not ask her to join the White House delegation.

If we were choosing by seniority, the answer is clear: Florida’s Ilena Ros-Lehtinen. As the winner of a special election in 1989, she is the longest tenured Republican congresswoman. (In contrast, the tenure of five Democratic women, including former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, predates that of Ros-Lehtinen.) But Boehner couldn’t take Ros-Lehtinen to the White House. The topic quickly would shift to immigration, and that’s another hard choice he prefers to avoid.

So I’m left with the woman who was my first choice prior to researching this: the second-longest tenured Republican woman, Kay Granger of Texas. First elected to the House in 1996, she not only is exceptionally well qualified, but also notably non-partisan. Indeed, when she won the non-partisan election as mayor of Fort Worth in 1991, no one knew if she considered herself to be a Democrat or Republican.

But real-world experience and an ability to get along with others are disqualifications for John Boehner. It’s clear that he prefers his cheering frat-boys. Please tell me, why would any woman want to be a member of that party? When will these women grow a backbone and demand the respect they are due?

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
Make a comment to the author