Even untainted by scandal, women lag noticeably in electoral sphere

2011-06-20T00:00:00Z Even untainted by scandal, women lag noticeably in electoral sphere Arizona Daily Star
June 20, 2011 12:00 am

NEW YORK - The sexting scandal that forced New York Rep. Anthony Weiner from Congress last week capped a remarkable season of dishonor for male politicians - from former presidential candidate John Edwards' indictment on federal campaign finance charges related to a mistress to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's admission that he'd fathered a child with the family maid.

For advocates of women in politics, such sexual shenanigans raise two questions: Why don't female lawmakers fall prey to such temptation? And if more women were elected to office, would political sex scandals disappear?

It's the latest source of frustration for many activists concerned about the lack of progress for women in the political sphere, even as they've begun to outpace men in fields like academia, medicine and law.

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said female lawmakers have demonstrated an ability to focus on their responsibilities in office and not succumb to distractions - sexual and otherwise - that sometimes ensnare male colleagues.

"We know that women have fewer sex scandals. And voters, particularly women voters, perceive them as being less prone to those kinds of scandals and more likely to be problem solvers with the right priorities," Lake said.

But even as voters warm to women's style of leadership, the number of women running for and winning public office has slowed after four decades of gains.

The number of women in Congress has plateaued since 2007, with just 17 women in the 100-member Senate and 72 in the 435-member House. In state legislatures nationwide, 1,738 lawmakers are women, compared with 1,809 last year, and the percentage of women holding statewide office has fallen from 27.6 percent in 2001 to 21.9 percent today. Just six states have female governors.

So while 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin may make headlines by testing the presidential waters - another woman, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman, has already joined the 2012 GOP primary field - fewer women are running for lower-tier offices.

Some advocates bluntly cite the high-profile sexual transgressions as evidence that more women need to run for office.

One of those is former Michigan Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who raised eyebrows last month commenting on Schwarzenegger's indiscretions. "Another guy guv admits 2 cheating on his wife. Maybe we need more women governors," she wrote on her Twitter feed.

In an interview, Granholm said the propensity of some male officeholders for bad behavior was only a small part of her quest to get more women to run. She said women succeed in office in part because they bring many "traditionally female" qualities to the job, like a willingness to build consensus and seek solutions rather than fights.

But, she said, the lack of temptation helps, too.

"Men in power get a lot more attention from the opposite sex than women do," Granholm said. "Women in office typically don't have men coming on to us. We're so busy trying to get the family together, multitasking and getting the job done."

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