Narrow view at the top
Why is it that Nevada has never elected a female governor or U.S. senator?
The Silver State has a rich history of women in politics, especially in the Nevada Legislature, where the number of female legislators has steadily increased since 1918, when Washoe County’s Sadie Hurst became the first woman elected to the Assembly. Women have never come close to reaching the 50 percent parity mark, however, although the newest rankings pushed Nevada up to fifth place in the country, with 33 percent of legislative seats filled by women.
Sandra Chereb of the Las Vegas Review-Journal points out that Nevada is one of 23 states that have never elected a woman governor and one of 22 states with no history of a woman serving as its U.S. Senator. Chereb interviewed several women who almost ran for those offices as well as others who ran and lost. But you won’t hear a hint of a whine from any of them except to say they’re looking forward to reaching gender parity in the highest elected offices—some day.
These women, all highly qualified and well liked by the political establishment, cite timing and political experience as factors in their races, but it was also funders who decided they’d rather back a more traditional male candidate and party bosses who discouraged them in not-so-subtle ways. Clearly there have been far fewer mentors for women involved in politics as many male elected officials want someone just like them to take over—that is, a man.
But Nevada’s strongest political women don’t seem to hold a grudge. Forer Las Vegas mayor Jan Jones, who twice ran for governor, reflected on her experience, blaming herself for her losses. “I have to factor in my own naivete and misjudgment. It was more of a problem than my gender.” Frankie Sue Del Papa, Nevada’s first female secretary of state and attorney general, took a more fatalistic view when she told Chereb: “The problem with politics, you can be the best candidate and still lose the election.”
A recent article in Politico pointed out that Republican women in particular are in short supply in Congress, dropping from 11 percent of the House GOP caucus in 2006 to just 9 percent this year. The opposite trend was observed in the Democratic House caucus, where the number of women grew from 21 percent in 2006 to 33 percent today. But 33 percent is still a long way from 50 percent.
There is something to be said for breaking the proverbial glass ceiling to inspire other women to follow. When Barbara Buckley became speaker of the Nevada Assembly in 2007, her picture in the gallery of speakers in the foyer of the Legislative Building stood out from the rows of men. She told Chereb that she noticed male lobbyists bringing their girls to see her at the podium of the Assembly, recalling, “It was striking because they wanted their daughters to see, visually, that women could have any position they set their minds to.” And a second female speaker, Marilyn Kirkpatrick, soon followed.
Catherine Cortez Masto may break a double-paned glass ceiling in November, becoming the first female U.S. senator, and the first Latina, to represent Nevada in the most exclusive body in the nation, echoing the shattering of the highest glass ceiling of all, with the election of Hillary Clinton. The electoral success of these two women will send a powerful message to the world, proving that the United States is indeed ready for female political leaders at the highest levels of government.
After all, women aren’t demanding that men hand over all the keys of government power. As Democratic national chair Donna Brazile is fond of saying, “We’re not telling men to leave the room, just scoot over.”