Interestingly, this Women’s eNews article is the first one I’ve seen that finally gives a reason I can buy in understanding how it is that New Hampshire’s state senate, unlike any other legislative body in the country, now has a majority of women (13 out of 24):
Two major explanations for women’s newfound majority are the state’s high number of legislators and their low–practically nonexistent–pay.
New Hampshire’s Legislature has 424 members: 400 in the House and 24 in the Senate, making it the largest legislature in the United States and the fourth-largest English-speaking governing body in the world.
The New Hampshire General Court–as the state Legislature has called itself since its inception in 1784–is in session for six months, between January and June, and elected officials are paid only $100 per year, plus gas mileage, to serve.
Hmm – so what does that change about the job, since they still make law?
States such as New Hampshire and New Mexico, whose elected officials receive no compensation, tend to have a higher percentage of female representatives, says Ziegler, because the sessions are less time-consuming and the expectations and compensation are such that the people who serve think of themselves as public servants rather than professional politicians.
“Historically, a woman might just as easily have served in the state Legislature as the PTA,” says Sytek, the New Hampshire Republican.
So does this really undermine women’s gains? What about equal pay and the equal pay argument overall?
Isn’t the pro and con argument regarding freelance writers and whether to take publication opportunities that won’t pay the same: if we give it away from free, they’ll never pay us what we deserve and are worth?
More on what makes NH unique:
In New Hampshire, legislators are often retirees, stay-at-home mothers, small business owners and people with part-time, flexible hours that allow them to serve. Not surprisingly, this has led to greater participation by women. But changes in the economy and the work force during the past decade have also brought in a new breed.
“The new women running for office aren’t doing this as volunteer work in the traditional sense,” she says. “We’re seeing a lot of college faculty, women with their own law practices and others who are bringing their professional expertise to the job.”
Around the country, here’s what the gender make-up of state legislatures looks like:
Until November, women comprised one-third of the state Senate in neighboring Vermont, making it the current leader. It will lose that title to New Hampshire in January, although Vermont will continue to outrank New Hampshire–just barely–in terms of the overall percentage of women serving in the Legislature: Vermont will have 37.8 percent while New Hampshire’s figure will stand at 37.7 percent. The Colorado Legislature will remain 38 percent female, the highest in the country, but it does not have a female majority in either the House or the Senate.
Other states with a high portion of female legislators are Arizona, Minnesota, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon and Maine.
Walsh attributes that to states’ populist–as opposed to liberal–heritage, where citizen legislatures encouraged women to participate in elective office.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are states, mostly in the South, that lag behind.
After the defeat earlier this month of five female candidates for the state Legislature, South Carolina will have no female representatives when its state Senate convenes in January. It will be the first time since 1979 that its state Senate has had no women in office.
In Ohio, we’ve seen State Senator Capri Cafaro rise to level of minority leader and Joyce Beatty cedes her House Majority role to Jennifer Garrison (although Armond Budish will become House Speaker). And we do pay our state legislators.
But still, thinking back to the NH state senate and New Mexico: is this progress? Progress of sorts? What?