California women at risk of being underrepresented

(KGO)
November 2, 2012 5:39:29 PM PDT
California women are in danger of being underrepresented in Sacramento next year. Women make up half of the state's population, but there are enough contested races on the ballot next week that the number of women in the legislature could fall to less than one-third.

Rachel Michelin with California Women Lead has been sounding the alarm for months. Women could lose up to seven seats in the state Legislature after next week's election, bringing the total number of women serving to just 27 out of 120. That's less than one-quarter.

She's had little luck convincing more women to run for a Senate or Assembly seat. She's found women won't run because of family commitments and because of Sacramento's famous partisanship and gridlock. "They look at the state Legislature and feel like, 'Well, what problems can I really solve? They don't seem to be solving a lot of problems,'" she said.

Female voices are considered essential when developing policy. Take the national headlines male politicians made this year about reproductive rights and rape. Critics say the debate would have been different with women included. "All rape is a crime and they wouldn't try to qualify that on the floor of the Legislature. So, that's the advantage of having women. They have a very unique perspective," said Kathy Kneer with Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.

At the state level, years of unprecedented cuts to the budget have mostly affected women and some wonder who will look out for them. "I fear that the things that are important to women such as childcare, education and elder care, things like that, we won't have strong voice on those issues," said Democratic Women's Caucus Chairwoman, St. Sen. Noreen Evans of Santa Rosa.

Recruiters often turn to local government to find potential candidates but the numbers there aren't great either. It's roughly just 24 percent. "We're going to wake up November 7 and the makeup of the Legislature could look very different than it did the morning of November 6," Michelin said.

Michelin is already looking for candidates for the 2014 and 2016 elections.


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