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The Citizens United ruling shows we must amend the U.S. Constitution

Our destiny – our laws and public policy – should be determined by people and the public interest — not by Wall Street banks and global corporations and their private interest.


In the Citizens United ruling (January 2010), the Supreme Court said that corporations have the same rights as persons to free speech, including political speech. This allows corporate entities to spend unlimited amounts to influence election outcomes and lawmaking. And they are doing it.

“One-person, one-vote” becomes “one-dollar, one-vote” — because of the power of money to purchase media, to influence election outcomes, and to influence laws with expensive lobbying.

  • Corporate influence in Congress is why Wall Street banks got big bailouts and bonuses.
  • It’s why health care insurance premiums keep rising and prescription drugs cost so much.
  • It’s why oil dominates our energy policy -and why corporate farms and food additives dominate our food supply.
  • And it’s why factories are closed when global corporate owners can make more profit overseas – regardless of the impact on local communities and families.

Can Congress overturn Citizens United by law?

No. When the Supreme Court declares a law unconstitutional, as they did in Citizens United, that takes precedence over any law or act of Congress.

Congress can try to bandage the damage within the scope of the Supreme Court ruling. But so long as corporate wealth shares power equally with people – protected as “free speech” through court rulings – campaigns, elections and lawmaking itself will be auctions, “for sale” to the highest bidder.

Public financing for campaigns would partially offset the power of private wealth. But only an amendment to the constitution is durable as “the final word” to protect American democracy.

Can states take action to limit undue corporate influence?

States can amend their constitutions to prevent undue influence by wealthy donors and political speech by global corporations. And they should. Corporate charters granted by states can specify what a corporation is allowed to do. Some states and local cities are passing laws that limit corporate activity to the economic sphere only, and prohibiting corporations from engaging in political electioneering.

But such state laws might be overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court – using the same reasoning as in the Citizens United ruling – unless the Constitution is amended.

Constitutional amendments have been done before

In 1971, the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted by 3/4ths of the states – within four months! — giving voting rights to anyone 18 or older. It was motivated by popular uprising resulting from the Vietnam War era: “If I’m old enough to be drafted, I’m old enough to vote!”

Boston Tea Party (1773) — a response to undue corporate influence

Our nation’s founding began when the American colonies rose up against a corporate monopoly. The East India Tea Company used their wealth and power in the British Parliament to achieve tax preferences on imported tea – undercutting local business in the American colonies. In effect, this “WalMart-ization” of the tea trade led to the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the great American experiment in democracy.

Now, two centuries later, we have global corporations exercising their wealth and muscle in our democracy. It’s time once again to reclaim the vision and promises of our nations’ founding – and to amend the constitution to spell it out. People – not corporations, and not wealth and privilege – should determine our nation’s destiny!
And we must amend the U.S. Constitution to clearly say so.

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Craig Salins is Executive Director of Washington Public Campaigns, www.washclean.org

As part of our continuing series of endorsements by progressive organizations we note that the following candidates have been endorsed by the Washington Conservation Voters. You can find out more specific information on these endorsements and the Washington Conservation Voters by clicking on their website link.

Statewide Initiatives (on November ballot)

Yes on Referendum 52

No on Initiative 1053

State Supreme Court

Pos 1: Stan Rumbaugh

Pos 6: Charlie Wiggins

Legislative District 1, Bothell

House 1: Derek Stanford

House 2: Luis Moscoso

Legislative District 5, Issaquah

House 2: Dean Willard

Legislative District 3, Spokane

House 1: Andy Billig

House 2: Timm Ormsby

Legislative District 11, Seattle, Renton

House 1: Zach Hudgins

House 2: Bob Hasegawa

Legislative District 21, Edmonds

House 1: Mary Helen Roberts

House 2: Marko Liias

Legislative District 22, Olympia

House 1: Stew Henderson

House 2: Sam Hunt

Legislative District 23, Bainbridge Island

House 1: Sherry Appleton

House 2: Christine Rolfes

Legislative District 24, Olympic Peninsula

House 1: Kevin Van de Wege

House 2: Steve Tharinger

Legislative District 25, Puyallup

House 2: Dawn Morrell

Legislative District 26, Bremerton

Senate: Derek Kilmer

House 1: Sumner Schoenike

Legislative District 27, Tacoma

House 1: Jake Fey

House 2: Jeannie Darneille

Legislative District 28, Lakewood

House 2: Tami Green

Legislative District 29, South Tacoma, Lakewood

House 1: Connie Ladenburg

Legislative District 30, Federal Way

Senate: Tracey Eide

Legislative District 32, Shoreline, Edmonds

Senate: Maralyn Chase

House 1: Cindy Ryu

House 2: Ruth Kagi

Legislative District 33, Des Moines

Senate: Karen Keiser

House 1: Tina Orwall

House 2: Dave Upthegrove

Legislative District 34, Seattle

Senate: Sharon Nelson

House 1: Eileen Cody

House 2: Joe Fitzgibbon

Legislative District 35, Belfair

House 1: Kathy Haigh

House 2: Fred Finn

Legislative District 36, Seattle

Senate: Jeanne Kohl-Welles

House 1: Reuven Carlyle

House 2: Mary Lou Dickerson

Legislative District 37, Seattle

Senate: Adam Kline

House 2: Eric Pettigrew

Legislative District 38, Everett

Senate: Nick Harper

House 1: John McCoy

House 2: Mike Sells

Legislative District 40, Anacortes

House: 1: Kristine Lytton and Tom Pasma

Legislative District 41, Mercer Island, Renton

House 1: Judy Clibborn

House 2: Marcie Maxwell

Legislative District 42, Bellingham

House 2: Kelli Linville

Legislative District 43, Seattle

Senate: Ed Murray

House 1: Jamie Pedersen

House 2: Frank Chopp

Legislative District 44, Snohomish

House 1: Hans Dunshee

Legislative District 45, Sammmish

Senate: Eric Oemig

House 1: Roger Goodman

House 2: Larry Springer

Legislative District 46, Seattle

Senate: Scott White

House 1: David Frockt

House 2: Phyllis Kenney

Legislative District 47, Kent

Senate: Claudia Kauffman

House 1: Geoff Simpson

House 2: Pat Sullivan

Legislative District 48, Bellevue

House 1: Ross Hunter

House 2: Deb Eddy

Legislative District 49, Vancouver

House 1: Jim Jacks

House 2: Jim Moeller

Kitsap County Commission

Commissioner Josh Brown

Thurston County Commission

Commissioner Karen Valenzuela

Whatcom County Council

Jean Melious

Pierce County Council

Pos. 5: Rick Talbert

Pos. 7: Betty Ringlee

Local Ballot Measures

Yes on Thurston County’s Intercity Transit’s Ballot Measure

Susan Hutchison, running for King County Executive, claims she is nonpartisan.

Hutchison’s media firm, however, is the opposite of nonpartisan . A Google on Dresner, Wickers & Associates is unambiguous. Dresner, Wickers & Associates is the go–to political consulting firm for Republican candidates, ballot initiatives, and major trade organizations.”

Their campaign work according to their website includes “strategic communication, media production and placement, polling and focus groups, DWA is a full–service agency”

A look at their present and past clients confirms their Republican credentials. Highlighted as “current” clients are:

Presidential Candidate and former Governor Mike Huckabee, Arkansas
US Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota.

They claim as a current issues advocacy client the Building Industry Association of Washington.

Their international list of clients includes Vladmir Putin of Russia.

As past clients listed they include:

Attorney General Ken Eickenberry, Washington
US Senator Paula Hawkins of Florida
Governor Pete Wilson, California

Their past advocacy work also includes two Washington initiative campaigns, representing those opposed to medical malpractice suits and the BIAW.

In 2005 two measures were on the ballot regarding medical malpractice. DWA worked for “Doctors , Nurses and Patients for a Healthy Washington “running with the slogan “stop the greed, vote yes on 330, no on 336. ” As Komonews.com noted “Insurance agencies and doctors wrote the measure (I-330), claiming skyrocketing legal fees jury awards are killing the medical profession.” The other side of the medical malpractice issue was Initiative 336 pushed by the Trial Lawyers. In the end both measures lost at the ballot.

The second Washington measure they were involved in was working for “Workers Against Job Killing Rules” to pass Initiative 841 which tossed out the state’s ergonomic rules that protected workers from injuries. Over half of the $1.4 million dollars to pass I-841 came from the BIAW.

Again the reality belies the myth that Hutchison is nonpartisan. She has contributed money to both Huckabee and the BIAW for example. Yes its guilt by association. You know her by her friends. Just as Rob McKenna was supported by the BIAW and then hired BIAW employees for his staff , expect that the BIAW will have representation in the King County Executives Office if she is elected.

Hutchison knew she couldn’t win running as a Republican in King County. That’s why she supported and worked for the effort to make the King County Executives Office nonpartisan.

Without the Party label, its much easier to deceive voters as to your real politics. But don’t be taken in by her phony nonpartisan claims. She’s a Republican and conservative to boot.

 

Ron Sims, King County Executive, has just announced that he has been tapped by President Barrack Obama to head to Washington, DC as the next Deputy Secretary at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In a statement released by the Sims Campaign :

President Barack Obama today announced his intent to nominate me as the next Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. If confirmed by the United States Senate, I will serve the President.

I want to thank you for the support and encouragement you have given me all these years. I would not have been able to serve in an elected capacity without your help. There are no words to express my heartfelt gratitude for your contributions of time and money; no measure of my appreciation for your passion and commitment to work with me on issues that affect our quality of life. …

I sincerely believed I would be tackling these challenges at the regional level when I announced my intention to seek reelection as County Executive. Little did I imagine that I would be called upon by the President to join him on this historic journey. I am so honored. If confirmed, I will give the President, his administration, and our country my very best. I am eager to promote what we have done here in King County, particularly in helping other metropolitan centers adapt to climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and build healthy communities that provide economic opportunities for all.

Again, let me thank you for your unyielding support. Leaving King County government will be very difficult, but I look forward to the opportunity to serve our President and our great country.

Councilmember Larry Phillips last year formed an exploratory committee to begin a run for King County Executive. Last Tuesday he announced that he was moving forward with his intent to run for King County Executive.

Larry Phillips is a Democrat. Despite voters last November making the race a nonpartisan one, Democrats hold a distinct edge in winning office in King County. And Phillips has a strong progressive track record on issues, both before the King County Council and before that as a State Legislator.

Once again a high profile politician confounds his supporters by playing Russian roulette -sooner or later they shoot themselves. It hard to understand yet maybe it the ego that drives them to politics with its do or die outcome.

Eliot Spitzer was a possible Democratic Presidential candidate with a promising future. He built a reputation as a fighter for the public interest, taking on special interests on Wall Street as New York’s Attorney General. Just over a year ago he was easily elected Governor of New York State.

Eliot Spitzer was heavily involved in the movement to give New York State both a Democratic House and Senate so that the Democrats could move on issues like campaign finance reform. Just last week a special election moved the New York State Senate to within one vote of becoming Democratic after years and years of Republican rule.

Today Spitzer shocked his supporters and many others with a public apology alluding to his possible solicitation of a prostitute in February when he was in Washington, DC. The New York Times broke the story as we reported earlier. New York Times Reports Spitzer Link to Prostitution.

CNN has Spitzer’s brief statement to the press on video. Spitzer apologized to the public but made no comments on his future, including possible resignation. He answered no questions.

Here is the text of Spitzer’s brief comments:

“Over the past nine years, eight as attorney general and one as governor, I’ve tried to uphold the vision of progressive politics that would rebuild New York and create opportunities for all,” Spitzer began. “We tried to bring real change to New York and that will continue.”

“Today, I want to briefly address a private matter. I have acted in a way that violated the obligations to my family and that violates my — or any — sense of right and wrong. I apologize first, and most importantly, to my family.

I apologize to the public, whom I promised better. I do not believe that politics in the long run is about individuals. It is about ideas, the public good and doing what is best for the State of New York. But I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard that I expect of myself. I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.

I will not be taking questions. Thank you very much. I will report back to you in short order. Thank you very much.”

If Spitzer resigns, New York’s lieutenant Governor, David Paterson would become the new Governor and serve until Dec. 31, 2010. The AP notes that Paterson would be only the third black Governor in the country since reconstruction.

If you were hoping to find insight and inspiration on the Internet from local Washington State grassroots Democrats for the August 21, 2007 Primary you were bound to be disappointed. A close look at the websites of the local Democratic County and Legislative District organizations right before the Primary was disappointing to say the least.

The local grassroots Democratic groups were looked at first for how well they alerted people visiting their websites about the Primary. A second point of comparison was whether the organizations were using their websites to gear up for the Feb. 2008 Caucus and Presidential Primary next year. These are just a little over 5 months away.

The first step in evaluating the Grassroots Democratic organizations was to check whether or not they even had a website. The list of websites used was taken from the list on the Washington State Democrats website . Out of 39 county Democratic organizations, 11 (28%) did not have a website. Out of 49 Democratic Legislative District organizations in the state, 19 (39%) did not have websites.

Here is a summary of what was found when looking at the Democratic websites.

Washington State County Democratic organizations:

Washington counties – 39
county Democratic organizations with websites – 28 (72%)
August 21 Primary date mentioned- 10 on first page + 2 more in calender = 12 (31%)
counties with primary endorsements posted – 5 (13%) King, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston, Whatcom
number including a link to endorsed candidates – 4 (10%)
counties listing Feb. 9, 2008 Caucus date – 3 (8%)
counties listing Feb. 19, 2008 Presidential Primary date – 3 (8%)
county Democratic websites with links to Presidential candidates – 6 (15%)

Washington State Legislative District organizations:

Legislative districts -49
Legislative district organizations with websites – 30 (61%)
August 21 Primary mentioned – 7 on first page + 6 more in calender = 13 (27%)
Legislative District organizations with Primary endorsements posted – 12 (24%)
number including a link to endorsed candidates – 4 (8%)
Legislative Districts listing Feb. 9, 2008 Caucus date – 6 (12%)
Legislative District organizations listing Feb. 19, 2008 Presidential Primary date – 2 (4%)
Legislative District websites with links to Presidential candidates – 4 (8%)

To be fair 5 counties did not hold a primary. Those counties are Asotin, Ferry, Garfield, San Juan, and Wahkiakum. But that still leaves 34 counties that did hold a primary election.

Why is website presence in a campaign important? Googling on “Democratic endorsements Washington August 21, 2007 Primary” yielded the following results on the first 2 pages:

MajorityRulesBlog
47th Leg District Democrats
Lefty Blogs – Metropolitan Democratic Club
SEAMEC 2007 endorsements
47th District Democrats
the Stranger
King County Democrats
Wash Fed of State Employees

Googling on “Washington State Primary Endorsements” yielded:

MajorityRulesBlog
Sierra Club (MajorityRulesBlog post)
the Stranger
36th Distrct Democrats
LeftyBlogs
Washington State Women’s Political Caucus
SEAMEC endorsements

Googling on “King County Democrats 2007 endorsements” yielded:

King County Democrats
34th District Democrats
47th District Democrats
MajorityRulesBlog
Peter Sherman’s website
46th District Democrats
Gael Tartelton’s website
Jean Godden’s website
the Stranger

Having endorsements on the Democratic websites and candidates receiving endorsements and listing them on their website drove traffic to these sites. This gives additional exposure to the Democratic Party and their endorsed candidates.

By way of comparison, googling on “”Washington State Republicans 2007 Primary” produced one relevant Republican hit to a right wing blog at the bottom of the second page. Typing in “Washington State Republicans 2007 Primary Endorsements” yielded little of the Republicans but brought up the following in the first two pages:

Washington State Stonewall Democrats
MajorityRulesBlog
LeftyBlogs
Washington Federation of State Employees
the Stranger
47th District Democrats
BlogNet News
WashBlog

Despite the lack of a strong internet effort by the Democrats in making and listing endorsements, where it was done it obviously had an impact on visibility of the Democrats.

There is a reason that the Republican presence is so minor in the google searches. Despite the untapped potential of the Democrats in using the web to get exposure and use the internet for organizing , they were far ahead of Republican Party efforts.

The Washington State Republican website has only county organizations. There are no Republican legislative district organizations listed.

The Republicans had only 15 county websites listed for the 39 counties in Washington State. And they seemed to be even less aware that a Primary was occurring. Only 4 listed the August 21, 2007 Primary date on their website and only 2 had endorsements. Regarding the Presidential Campaign only 2 had a link to the 2008 Republican Presidential candidates.

Just in terms of number of sites, the Democrat’s 58 grassroots organization sites outnumbered the Republicans by almost 4 to 1. Now if they can just get some web savy and get links up for the General Election in November with endorsements listed and links to endorsed candidates they can have a much stronger presence on the web.

And they also need to copy the Democratic State Party’s Road to the White House Presidential candidate’s links and add them to their webpages. Island County Democrats have links with pictures of the candidates which is a nice touch. So do the Spokane Democrats. and the Walla Walla County Democrats. Whitman County, Thurston County and Mason County are the only other counties that currently have links to the Democratic Presidential candidates.

And I could only find links available on the websites of the 1st , 6th, 44th and 45th District Democrats.

One additional element that the Democratic organizations should add to their websites is the free fundraising link for Democrats by ActBlue. ActBlue is set up to raise funds for all the Democratic Presidential candidates. John Edwards for President, for example, using the ActBlue website has raised $3,599,983 from 44,058 donors.

MajorityRulesBlog recently set up an ActBlue page for all the Presidential candidates. You can click on the link to see what one could look like for the Democratic organizations. Each organization would get exposure and credit for funds raised for the candidates.

Historic Seattle has posted their survey responses from candidates on the August 21, 2007 Primary. The survey covered “local historic preservation issues, concerns and opportunities

Not all candidates responded. Campaigns are busy times and candidates get deluged by all sorts of questionnaires. At the same time when people are elected to office it doesn’t get any less busy.

So I think you can read something into whether a candidate responded to a questionnaire or not. Their response or non-response once elected is likely to be similar. At a minimum it shows how important an issue is to them.

As Historic Seattle notes:

Preservation of the community’s heritage is a key quality-of-life issue and is also a primary component of sustainable development, as well as a valuable comprehensive planning tool which helps build strong communities. In Seattle, historic preservation practice and procedures have been crucial to maintain critical pieces of our urban identity such as Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square, Downtown Ballard, the International District, and more.

Community voters, and especially Historic Seattle members, are seeking to understand the positions of political leaders who will be responsible for protecting the historic components of our built environment and thoughtfully balance the preservation of Seattle’s unique identity with other public purposes including urban growth.”

Historic Seattle’s election survey pages are divided into 4 areas. Responses noted and posted are those received by a July 23, 2007 posting date on the website.

Seattle City Council Candidates

Responding: Jean Godden , Lauren V Biel, Robert Sondheim, Venus Velazquez, Al Runte, Tim Burgess, Sally Clark

Not Responding: Joe Szwaja, Bruce Harrell, Scott Feldman, John Manning, Tom Rasmussen, David Della, Robert J Brown III, Judy Fenton, Stan Lippman

King County Assessor- on Nov election ballot

Not Responding: Scott Noble(D), Jim Nobles(R)

King County Council

Responding: Jane Hague (R), Dow Constantine (D), Goodspaceguy Nelson (D)

Not Responding: Larry Gossett (D),Larry Phillips (D), Richard Pope (D), John Potter(R)

Seattle School Board

Responding: Patrick Kelley, Darlene Flynn, Lisa Stuebling, Sherry Carr, Harrium Martin-Morris, Maria G Ramirez, Edwin B Fruit, Danaker M Dempsey, Jr.

Not responding: Sally Soriano, Peter Maier, Courtney Hill, David Blomstrom, Steve Sundquist

Girl Power- No Longer a Novelty” say the “boys” at the Seattle Times. This editorial appeared in today’s Seattle Times but was posted January 1, 2007 on the Internet.

We are the only state in the nation which has two girl Senators and a girl Governor, all a testament to “Girl Power” and our “true progressivism and open-mindedness” says the Seattle Times.

Yes, we have a girl for Governor – 59 year old Girl Governor Christine Gregoire (born March 24, 1947). We also have two girl Senators: Girl Senator Patty Murray (born Oct 11, 1950) who is 56 years old and Girl Senator Maria Cantwell (born Oct 13, 1958) who is 48 years old.

The Seattle Times notes that Maine and California also have two “female” Senators. But California’s Governor is not boy Arnold Schwarzenegger or male Arnold Schwarzenegger but “ever macho” Arnold Schwarzenegger. Why not in all fairness say “Not a Girlie” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger? That would be in context with the “Girl Power” headline. Maine’s Governor is asexual I guess because he is just “John Baldacci” He is not labeled as a boy or male. Maybe he is bisexual – in that case the girl power factor would put Maine at 2 1/2 instead of 2 out of three offices in the comparison above.

Our “Girl Power“according to the Seattle Times is because “Voters, as well as skilled politicians at several levels, understand that men do a very good job at a lot of things, and, quite often, women do, too I think they meant to say “and, quite often, girls do, too.” But there is more here.

I have a seventeen, almost eighteen, year old daughter who is off to college next year. As I read the above quoted sentence I can’t help but be angered at the bias that this sentence displays that I hoped we were overcoming in our nation. The phrase “…understand that men do a very good job at a lot of things, and, quite often, women do too.” is what bothers me. It reeks of sexism. Men, implying all men, as a class, do a very good job at a lot of things, it says. Without qualification, (all) men (politicians) do a very good job at a lot of things (in politics). But women don’t always do a very good job at a lot of things. They may “quite often” do a very good job at a lot of things but they don’t always do a very good job like men do. This is according to the Seattle Times interpretation of how men and women politicians are perceived by voters and I assume by the Seattle Times. Did no one proofread this editorial?

The Seattle Times editorial is off the mark in talking so condescendingly about “Girl Power” Maybe its because the Times editorial board itself has 8 boys and only 4 girls. But the fact is that the “girls” the Seattle Times talks about as a whole are shut out of power across the country. It’s time we talked about the reality that boys run this country. And boys outnumber girls two to one in Washington’s State Legislature. Is that a sign of “our true progressivism and open mindedness” that the Times talks about?

The Times editorial never once calls a man – a boy and never once calls a man – a male in its talk about “Girl Power“.

The Seattle Times editorial notes that “For many years, Washington has had the highest, or one of the highest, percentages of women in the State Legislature” We are now ranked third after Maryland and Delaware. We are actually tied for third with 3 other states – Arizona, Nevada and Vermont.

But the Seattle Times doesn’t give the figures for how many women are in the Washington Legislature which I think is important to this discussion. The Washington State Senate has 20 women out of 49 total Senators (15 D, 5R). The Washington State House of Representatives has 29 women out of 98 Representatives (19D, 10R) Women comprise almost exactly one third of our Legislature or 33.3% . This breakdown is part of an analysis done by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, State University of New Jersey.

Why is it not 50/50? Why do we not have some kind of parity or equality in numbers since women voters comprise about 50% of the voting population? While it is good to applaud the success of women in the ranks of Washington’s Legislators to date, it is not good enough to stop there. We need to challenge the parties and the voters to seek out and elect more women to the State Legislature. We need to rise to the challenge of fair representation. That is the editorial the Times should have written.

A closer look at the numbers of women elected to state legislatures nationally tabulated on the page of the Center for American Women and Politics says to me that women have hit a glass ceiling on rising to power in politics in America. ( See also my earlier discussion of the glass ceiling for women in politics)

Women in State Legislatures:
1971……….4.5%
1981……..12.1%
1991………18.3%
2001………22.4%
2007………22.8%

The trend is pretty obvious. Its like a mathematical equation where the line is approaching a limit of 25%.

The US ranks below a number of other countries around the world in having women in national Legislative office. Our two women U.S.Senators – Senator Patty Murray and Senator Maria Cantwell are only two of 16 women US Senators. 84 Senators are men. Women also comprise only 16% of the members of the US of Representatives.Internationally this ranks us 66th out of 151 national Legislative bodies around the world in the percentage of women holding office. Ironically this is lower than the percentage of women in the national legislature in Iraq (25.5%) and Afghanistan (27.3% and 22.5%).

“Woman Power” in America has a long ways to go to reach any fairness of women being represented in office. If anything Washington State is an anomaly both nationally and internationally. But even the numbers here do not suggest “a sign of Washington’s egalitarian nature.” Because that suggests some kind of equality which doesn’t exist. And it really is not a number we should be satisfied with.
.
We should be asking ourselves why aren’t we doing better, both here and nationally? Why isn’t there an approximately equal number of men and women in public office? Shouldn’t we be setting a goal to achieve a better balance? What do we have to do to achieve more women elected to public office? These are the questions that need answers.

Democrat Darcy Burner, who lost a very close election for Congress in the 8th CD in Washington State started the discussion. She mused on what might have happened when she lost in a Republican leaning Congressional District to an incumbent whose previous job had been as the Sheriff of King County, the state’s largest county.

Problem is, she did her musing to some Seattle Times reporters and then they started spinning it around. It started with the headline on a blog written by Jim Brunner on the blog Postman on Politics. He entitled his post “A Glass Ceiling for Darcy?”

Part of Darcy’s musing included the following in an e-mail she sent to Brunner.

There has been a lot of talk about this year’s Democratic wave, but it was clearly a wave that helped men more than women. A reasonable hypothesis would be that the wave was related to voter feeling about the war, and that voters responded by preferring Democratic male challengers to Republican incumbents (of either gender), but did not apply that same preference to Democratic female challengers.”

Brunner then belittles newcomer Burner by pointing to Republican Jennifer Dunn previously representing the District. Prior to Dunn running for Congress she was the Chair of the State Republican Party from 1981 to 1992. Democrat Patty Murray won in the 8th in 2004 after already having been a Senator for 6 years. And Democrat Christine Gregoire won in the 8th in her Governor’s race after having been Washington State Attorney General. In addition one needs to consider each of their opponents.

No one disputes, I think, that Burner did not have the name recognition or political experience that these candidates did or the name familiarity and political experience of Sheriff Congressman Dave Reichert. The district has been considered a Republican District and Burner was running against a Republican incumbent Congressman. There were a number of factors, besides these, any one of which by itself could have been the margin of difference in this race. However I thought it was rather dismissive of Brenner to question Darcy’s saying that gender could have been an issue because irregardless of Darcy’s experience or other factors, gender is an issue in every race a woman runs in.

In his next days post entitled “Final Thoughts on Burner” Brenner backs off some noting that the issue of gender is a factor.

“For the record, I don’t think it loopy to look at the role gender can play in an election. You can see it in the “gender gap” which generally has men favoring Republicans and women leaning Democratic. Male and female candidates can be perceived differently. (Some comments in yesterday’s thread only strengthened Burner’s argument by calling her “honey” and telling her to stay at home with the kid.)
But for every male chauvinist out there, there are others who prefer to vote for women. As long as I’ve covered politics here, I’ve heard consultants speak about women candidates as having an advantage. Our state Legislature
ranks 3rd in the percentage of women in the Legislature, according to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, which also has loads of other data on women in elected office.
For another perspective, researchers
here suggest that many Congressional districts treat Democratic women differently than Republican women. In Washington’s 8th , they predict Republican women having an easier go than Democrats. The methodology is complicated, so take a look for yourself.”

I think Darcy Burner raised an important point that has not been sufficiently looked at even in this state. That is not to say that any number of factors mentioned by others did not also impact this race. And I am not saying that gender was the deciding factor in this race nor did I read Darcy as saying this.

What Darcy did was raise the question. And she is right to raise the question about gender as a factor in who Americans vote for because the numbers show that she was running with an extreme handicap.

The Washington Post in an article headlined “Hill Demographic Goes Slightly More Female” says:

“The House and Senate elections …..added at least five women to the next Congress, the only notable demographic shift in an otherwise dramatic political upheaval……Women in Congress made a net gain of five seats, three in the House and two in the Senate, bringing the total to 86. At least eight new Democratic women and two Republican women were elected to the House, with the possibility of a few more in still unresolved races. Two female Senate victors — Democrats Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — will bring the number in that body to 16.”

But a closer look at this slight gain reveals a harsh truth of how we view women in public office.

Even with this year’s election results, nationally women only make up 16% of the members in the US House and also 16% in the US Senate. There are now 16 women who are US Senators and 70 women who are Representatives in the US House. Men hold 84% of the seats in Congress.

How does this compare with the rest of the world? Well to be honest, we stink.

Internationally we rank 67th out of 189 nations in the percentage of women in national parliaments. Rawanda has 48.8%, Sweden 47.3%, Costa Rica 38.6 ….. even Afghanistan at 27.3% women and Iraq at 25.5% have more women in office. In the United States of America we only have women at 16%.
You can see the list at Women in National Parliaments.

And its not just Congress.

As Trinity University’s Presidents Blog notes in commenting on Nancy Pelosi, class of 1962, becoming Speaker of the House , there is still a long way to go for more women to become part of the political power structure:

“Only 8 women are currently governors of states, including Trinity Alumna Kathleen Gilligan Sebelius in Kansas. In all 225 years of U.S. history, only 25 women have ever been governors.”

Again the current numbers translate to 16% of Governors being female.

While women are working their way into state legislatures, there is still not a true sharing of the political power structure between men and women proportional to their numbers.

As the National Council of State Legislatures notes:
The 2007 session will see 1,731 women legislators serving across the country. Women currently hold 23.3 percent of legislative seats in the 50 states, a ratio that has increased only slightly over the past ten years.

Washington State has now moved from 3rd highest to 6th highest in percentage of women in our Legislature with this year’s elections.

New Hampshire 36.3%
Vermont 35.6%
Minnesota 34.8%
Colorado 34%
Hawaii 32.9%
Washington 32.7%

The lowest state is South Carolina at 8.8%

In 2003 Washington State women legislators numbered 54 out of 147 or 36.7%. In 2007 the number will be 48 out of 147 or 32.7%.

We remain a country dominated by men on all levels. Women still have a long way to go until they reach any kind of parity with their actual percentage in the population, whether it be for State Legislature, Congress, Governor, Senator or President. Until then every woman, including Darcy Burner, will start and finish with a gender bias handicap that they have to fight against in election after election in addition to all the other factors that decide the outcome of an election.

In the meantime comments like Darcy Burner’s noting this glass ceiling’s existence speaks to the truth and points to just another reason why Darcy Burner almost won her race. She was not afraid to speak the truth which many want to deny or ignore but which is obvious in looking at the results in election after election.

See Also:
“Women, War and Darcy” Evergreen Politics

“Winning Women?”NY Times Magazine 10/29/2006

“Needed: a few good men?” Seattle Times 11/19/2006

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