Stennis program touts women in politics

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Mississippi is one of two states never to have elected a women to serve in Congress or as governor.
Iowa is the other.
In Mississippi, efforts are being made to change that through a program developed by the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government. The program – called Ready to Run – will attempt to get more women involved in the Mississippi political process.
“Women are in the majority, but are in the extreme minority in political leadership,” said Lydia Quarles, a senior policy adviser with the Stennis Institute.
Quarles and Pam Johnson, who has worked as a political consultant and previously served as the executive director of the state Commission on the Status of Women, spoke to the MSU Stennis Institute/Capitol press corps Monday luncheon about the need to get more women involved in politics.
Quarles cited many instances where Mississippi was near or at the bottom in quality of life issues. She pointed out the state leads the nation in the number of people living in poverty, and explained that for every male living in poverty three women are.
Johnson said statistics show when women are involved in decision making, “quality of like markers improve for everyone.”
She cited progress. Mississippi has two elected statewide female officials – Treasurer Lynn Fitch and Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Cindy Hyde-Smith – for the first time. And the 2011 elections increased the number of females in the state Legislature.
As a result, there are now eight women in the state Senate – the most in recent memory, up from five women in the 52-member chamber. The number of women in the 122-member House remained the same at 21.
Johnson said studies show for women to have a real impact they need to have representation of about 30 percent in a legislative body.
Mississippi lags behind most of the nation in terms of women’s participation in politics, and the nation lags many other Western countries.
Quarles said many European countries require their legislative bodies to have a percentage of their membership be female. She said she is not proposing that for the United States or Mississippi, but said everyone would benefit if women became more involved in politics.
On June 22-23, the Stennis Institute will conduct a Ready to Run seminar at the state Capitol.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com