HED:Women and politics
By Lena Mitchell
– Mississippi League of Women Voters, P.O. Box 55505, Jackson, MS 39295-5505, (601) 352-4616
– Center for the American Woman and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, (732) 932-6778
– Internet sites: http://www.gendergap.com; http://www.pulse.org
Nowhere can women’s voices be heard louder in 2000 than in the voting booth.
Women not only outnumber men in the general population, but they also outnumber men in the voting age population, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.
As only the second female this century elected to statewide office in Mississippi, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck made history last fall, and women voters helped to make it happen.
“Women really played a role in my campaign, they were energized by the campaign,” Tuck said. “They volunteered and put the time and effort in mailouts and phone banks. They were there and willing to help.
“It’s important as candidates to reach out to women and tell them we want their support, but also to reach out to all and say we want their support.”
The Maben Democrat follows in the footsteps of Evelyn Gandy, who served as lieutenant governor for one term, 1976 to 1980.
As lieutenant governor, Tuck will preside the next four years as President of the Senate, working with both the men and women who comprise that body.
Tuck recognizes women’s greater sensitivity to particular needs of Mississippians, such as in the area of children’s issues and concerns of the elderly.
As a public servant, however, she must study the concerns of all constituencies.
“To get legislation passed we (women) must work with everyone,” Tuck said. “We must come across as broad-ranged in our view.
“It is incumbent upon us to reach out and say we’re concerned about environment, the business climate in our state, small businesses, education.”
Six women serve in the state Senate, a three-seat gain. In the state House of Representatives women hold 16 of the 122 seats.
“I think we just need more qualified women running for office,” she said. “As someone fortunate to be elected as lieutenant governor, I can’t forget there were women behind me working, too.
Everybody may not want to run for office, but we have many qualified women who do. But it’s very expensive to run, and that’s probably a large part (of what holds them back), the high cost of campaigning.”
The first time she ran for office in the early ’80s, state Rep. Eloise Scott of Tupelo said many of the men she approached for their vote said they had never voted for a woman.
She countered by asking them to focus the discussion on issues rather than her gender.
Since serving in the Legislature, however, she has found that a woman’s perspective can add a lot to discussions, as with the recent bill passed by the Senate to have insurance companies pay for breast reconstruction surgery after a mastectomy.
“There were times where in discussing health issues like mammograms, cervical cancer, where men just didn’t seem concerned,” Scott said. “Now that there is more male cancer, they seem to understand the issue better. It may have hit home with a family member or something.”
Each year Scott has introduced measures to address the need for early intervention for children and families, particularly for special medical or educational services.
“Early intervention is one of the things I am passionate about children with handicaps, disadvantaged, hearing problems. What makes a difference is being able to find these problems early on and provide early intervention,” Scott said.
Coalition-building is an important strategy for accomplishing any goal, and Houston Alderwoman Shenia Kirby Jones knows winning an election is all about talking to people and building relationships.
“There were never any politicians in my family,” Jones said. “My dad lived here all his life and I often talked with him about wanting to make a difference, bring people together and work together. He said ‘Well, maybe you ought to run for office, get in politics.’”
After praying about it, Jones said she talked with her family and the man who held the seat before her before making a final decision.
She then mapped out a strategy and set about gathering support.
“Every afternoon when I got off work I would hit the campaign trail, going door to door talking to people.”
The 39-year-old alderwoman, who is black, is in her fourth term working for her constituents in a majority white district, issues that range from fixing a manhole to how to work with youths at risk, the city budget and much more.
The issues that face the city and the board of aldermen cross gender lines and include all ages, but Jones said the encouragement and support of women played a significant role in her election.
“Women did support me, helping me to get elected,” she said. I’d like to see more women getting involved, more women taking leadership roles of being CEO’s or chairmen and getting the power. We can be on the board and serve, but most of the time we’re outnumbered by males.”
Work to do
More women than men, 77 percent to 69 percent, believe that voting gives them a say in what government does, says a study on political involvement conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in Washington.
The report finds that more women than men believe government has a more active role to play in caring for the poor and saving the environment.
“I believe we are setting an example for our children for the next century,” said Houston Alderwoman Brenda Crawford. “We are trying to pave the way for our children so they can have a better understanding of our government.”
If Mississippi’s women voters believe that women officeholders are the standard-bearers who will hear their concerns, there is work to do.
Of the nine justices who sit on the state Supreme Court, two are women Chief Justice Lenore Prather who came as the first female to serve on the Supreme Court in 1983. The second woman justice is Associate Justice Kay Cobb.
There is one woman Mary Libby Payne serving on the state Court of Appeals out of 10 judges.
“I was president of the Women’s Municipal Government Association because we wanted more women in politics,” Crawford said. “Women have more of a tendency if you bring a problem to them to address those problems. We are working with other organizations to train more women to be in political life.”