Commentary: Oklahoma Lacking in Number of Women Legislators

Article excerpt

As the 2009 session of the Oklahoma Legislature convened last week, it is clear that many issues affecting the state's business climate and economic future will challenge our lawmakers over the next four months. While much of the talk is focused appropriately on jobs and economic development, it is also important to recognize the challenges facing many Oklahoma families. Now is the time to invest in our families and communities. Unfortunately, we must also note that the Oklahoma Legislature may lack some of the strongest voices for Oklahoma families - women.

Last November's election returned fewer women to the Oklahoma Legislature than the prior session, and you have to go all the way back to 2002 to find fewer women. The Oklahoma Senate Republican majority has no women members. In 1979, Oklahoma ranked 43rd nationally in the percentage of women serving in the state legislature. Since that time the number of women lawmakers has risen nationally, and today, on average, 24.2 percent of the membership of the 50 state legislatures are women. In Oklahoma, that percentage is 11.4, which places our state 49th among the 50 states.

Upon examination of other states in our region, the scarcity of women in the Oklahoma Capitol is all the more puzzling. Colorado leads the country, with women comprising 39 percent of its legislature, but other neighboring states also put Oklahoma to shame: Arkansas (23 percent), Kansas (29.1 percent), Missouri (20.8 percent), New Mexico (30.4 percent) and Texas (23.2 percent).

Just what difference does it make to have women serving in the legislature? Cindy Simon Rosenthal, director of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center, points to a large body of research that shows women lawmakers are more likely to propose and advocate for policy solutions addressing the concerns of children and families. Women are more likely to identify families and communities as their top legislative priority and to devote scarce time and energy to those issues. Women are also more likely to speak on behalf of under-represented groups. In short, women lawmakers change the legislative agenda and provide a critical voice for some of the issues confronting our state.

At the end of the day, there is a strong correlation between the lack of women in our state Legislature and key indicators of economic health and well-being of families. …


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