Secret to NH State Senate female majority: it doesn't pay

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?

I’ve written about women, elections and leadership recently here, here and here.

8 thoughts on “Secret to NH State Senate female majority: it doesn't pay

  1. Pingback: If the position doesn’t pay, does it command respect? - Moms On Issues - Work It, Mom!

  2. Throwing my 2 cents in, you generally get what you pay for in life. I really don’t know much about my native NH’s system but I do know my still rather small native city of Derry has like 6 or 8 state reps. Strange.

    I think Ohio’s 99 has a good balanced feel to it having spent time trapsing around several state house districts over the last four years.

    As for salary, I firmly believe that legislators, whether at the state of federal level need to get a significant amount of pay that allows them to focus on the work they are to do and not have to hold down another job at the same time, something that would only ever work at the state level.

    I also think at the federal level, the government should build a series of secure dormatories for our DC critters. They don’t have to be terribly fancy but part of the reason they have to get so much money is that most maintain two homes and housing in DC is terribly expensive.

  3. Lisa- I completely agree – which is why I’m really still unable to make sense (to my satisfaction) of how the NH one works, how ours works, others and so on.

    I start to think about what seem to be basic questions: what’s the legislature’s role? How does it get filled – how is best filled? By whom is it best served – are we best served?

    And then: do we even get the luxury of meeting any of those ideals?

    I just really never thought about the no pay thing – I didn’t know that was the case. I’ve always known it didn’t pay well and it wasn’t typically full-time. But the way in which the NH one works has just really confounded my making sense of how a state legislature is organized and functions in the first place.

  4. Ben – from what I’ve been told, it’s got to do with the populist nature of how they see government for their state. The Wikipedia entry has some info on it here.

    For Ben and Lisa Renee re: who is attracted to such a legislature and how salary plays a role in other states, NCSL put out this pdf out a few months ago I think.

    This is another interesting article w/some cool facts in it – the women are called OWLs.

    I’ve got an email into someone at NCSL for more info – got an autoreply that she’s out today. But those links were just from googling. I don’t possess any innate knowledge – which is why I’m so curious.

  5. Let’s look at our General Assembly as an example if you or I wanted to run as mothers. We would have to leave our children with our spouses in charge and have to live in Columbus when the General Assembly was in session. The income seems high at first, but not when you take into consideration the dual household requirements and any additional child care/costs from running two different households. Only those who live within an easy commute to Columbus could do this.

    At times I wonder how impossibly difficult it must be for some of the wives of the General Assembly members from my area, especially those with young children. These women voluntarily take on becoming basically single parents for stretches of time.

    It takes dedication and a desire to serve, similar in some ways to those who serve in the military. It’s not just those who actually serve who give more of themselves and sacrifice at times, it’s their families too.

  6. Absolutely – I agree with all that. In fact, I posted this to one of the listservs I’m on and received some feedback from someone who knows someone who is very familiar with the NH state legislature and this populist ideal is extremely strong there. Very very interesting – but is it importable? I just want to have the whole setup unpacked, so to speak – because it’s truly something I’ve not known about and I can’t quite wrap my head around why other states don’t have the same drive and so on. Just intense curiosity, for a change. 😉

  7. You could also suggest that this demonstrates that men don’t care about actually serving but instead are only interested in politics, at least in NH if they are paid.


    It is progress because at one time men were in the majority, so clearly at one point in time men thought it was “worth it” and personally the suggestion that the only reason why there are more women is because it doesn’t pay is kind of an insult not only to those serving but to the concept of what our government was supposed to be all about, not career politicians in it for the money or the power, but the citizen legislator serving out of a love of their country…

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