For a very liberal state, Vermont’s got a surprisingly lousy record on electing women to our highest offices. We’ve got the #1 state legislature for gender equity, but there’s a distinct glass ceiling above that. A recent survey ranked Vermont a dismal 39th in the nation on gender equity in political office, thanks to women’s under-representation from the state Senate and top mayoralties, their almost complete absence from statewide offices, and their complete absence from our Congressional delegation.
Dismaying, then, to read the recent words of Seven Days’ Paul Heintz in speculating on the “next generation” of Democrats who might seize the next opportunity to move up the ladder should, say, Sen Patrick Leahy retire from office:
The most obvious contenders would be Congressman Welch, 67, and Gov. Shumlin, 58, though both men feign disinterest, perhaps out of respect for Leahy. If either was to leave his current job to run for Senate, that would provide openings for the next generation of Vermont politicos — including, presumably, Speaker Smith, Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan, Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.
No offense to any of those worthies, but four names, four men.
I checked in with Heintz to see if his list was meant to be comprehensive in any way, and he responded thusly:
That list definitely wasn’t meant to be comprehensive. I included a few up-and-coming officeholders whose names are frequently mentioned as potential statewide candidates. But there are plenty of others who would be equally strong candidates, including a number of women.
There’s no question that Vermont has elected too few women to statewide office. It’s pretty shocking that we’re one of just four states to have never sent a woman to Congress. I would certainly hope that Vermont’s next crop of congressional candidates is more reflective of our population than the current crop of incumbents.
Unfortunately, when you get down to it, the longer list of ambitious Democratic politicos is almost entirely male as well. The most prominent woman on the list, and just about the only one, is former State Rep. and current Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter, while the amount of testosterone on that longer list would be enough to gag a goat.
Not sure what that means, but I’ll carry on.
When that gender equity report came out, Sarah McCall of Emerge Vermont, a group trying to encourage and train female candidates, expressed concern that the next few years are a critical time. If the upcoming round of political retirees are replaced by more men, she noted, we might have to wait another generation for female leaders to take their rightful place. And we’ve already lost a generation since Madeleine Kunin was our one and only female Governor.
In response to Heintz’ list — and really, to the unbalanced reality behind it — McCall offered these comments:
…this is certainly a conversation that Vermont politicos will be having frequently between now and 2016. In Vermont, we are lucky to have such strong leaders in our federal delegation and statewide offices; and whoever follows in Senator Leahy’s footsteps has some very big shoes to fill.
… I have no doubt that there are qualified female leaders in this state who aspire to serve our state in Washington, DC and Emerge Vermont will continue to train female leaders so that women running for public office at all levels of government becomes more commonplace.
It’s a hard thing to ask a qualified male to limit his own ambitions for the sake of equity. But breaking Vermont’s glass ceiling is long overdue. And I’d ask this of Vermont Democrats: Do we have to depend on the Republican Party, which might very well feature Heidi Scheuermann on its 2016 ticket? Or are you going to actively seek to remove the glass ceiling instead of simply bemoaning its existence, while allowing Business As Usual to continue?