This year has gotten off to a good start for women in South Carolina government.
Judge Kaye Hearn was sworn in to the state Supreme Court, joining Chief Justice Jean Toal as the second woman to serve on the state’s highest court.
The National President of the League of Women Voters held a press conference at the Statehouse. And before the General Assembly reconvened for another legislative year, political activists gathered in the statehouse calling for more women to run for political office.
South Carolina ranks in the very last position nationally for the number of number of women holding government office on the state level or above.
The Southeastern Institute for Women in Politics, a genuinely non-partisan group, points out that there are currently no women serving in the South Carolina Senate and only 17 serving in the House, which has 124 members–for a total of 10 percent representation in both bodies.
Among the organization’s goals: to triple the number of women running for office in 2012; to build a network of outreach personnel to identify capable women in each congressiona district; to conduct advanced training campaign schools this year; and to launch a talent bank in cooperation with Alliance for Women to identify skilled women for nomination to public and private boards.
House Republican Jenny Horne says that when she was a page in 1992, there were 22 women in the General Assembly, or 12.9 percent, but since then women have actually lost ground.
Women in Politics board member Walt McLeod is a Newberry County House member. McLeod says the government needs women, particularly now, since South Carolina lawmakers this year have almost 25 percent fewer revenues than they had three years ago. “Some very difficult decisions will have to be made,” says McLeod. “Our legislature today would be far better off if it had more women leaders. Men simply want to cut things across the board. We need to make targeted cuts. We need to be concerned about the lives of human beings. Women have a perspective that protects that point of view.”
To sign up for a training session or to be a mentor for a future female politician, go to www.scelectswomen.com.
A nationally prominent expert on campaign fundraising spoke at a women’s seminar in Charleston recently sponsored by Women in Politics, attended by approximately 50 participants.
Women in Politics Chair Donna DeWitt says a lot of women are not running for office for the wrong reason. “Too many women say they have to many skeletons in the closet,” says DeWitt. “And I’m amazed at that answer from a woman, because it’s not an issue with men. It’s not about skeletons, but about getting the training and confidence you need.”
Barbara Rex serves as treasurer for Women In Politics. She says women make a largely different kind of politician. “They tend to spend more time working on public policy rather than politics. They leave the politics to the men in Columbia and spend more time in their districts.”
Rex says women underestimate themselves. “Women have always felt that they needed to work harder, dress better, whatever, than men, in order to be in public office,” she says. “Our message is that we challenge you to find a male in office who has agonized as much over whether he was qualified to run. Women need to get over that self-imposed article.”
The Southeaster Institute for Women in Politics began in South Carolina but is serving as a model for other states.