OKLAHOMA CITY —
This November, Oklahoma will elect it's first woman governor.
Republican Mary Fallin and Democrat Jari Askins guaranteed the state would elect its first female governor when they won their respective party’s gubernatorial nomination. To date, Oklahoma has selected 26 consecutive men to be the state’s chief executive.
Advocates wanting women to have a greater role in government hope the historic election will help close the gender gap that exists in Oklahoma politics.
Women make up 11.4 percent of Oklahoma’s state legislature, which is the second lowest female representation in the country. Sara Jane Rose, who is president of Sally’s List, a new group working to recruit woman to seek office in Oklahoma, said she is optimistic the election will encourage more woman to seek elected office.
“It is very significant that we have two qualified woman that have accomplished so much,” she said. “Regardless of party, they are role models now for women looking to get interested in politics.”
Cassi Peters, 25, said as the president of the Oklahoma Young Democrats she obviously is pulling for an Askins win on Nov. 2. But she said she still will feel inspired and encouraged to see a woman break through a new barrier regardless of the election’s outcome.
“As a young woman, I feel like it provides more access to what has been a male-dominated field,” she said. “I feel like it helps push stereotypes aside, and I feel like it's another crack in the glass ceiling, just like what Hillary (Clinton) did in the presidential race.”
Both Askins and Fallin are familiar with breaking new ground in roles traditionally held by men. Askins was the first chairwoman of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and the first woman to serve as the state’s Democratic House leader. Fallin became the first woman to be elected lieutenant governor in 1995 and the second Oklahoman woman to be elected to Congress in 2005.
Askins and Fallin agreed their success has the ability to inspire the next generation to realize the options available to them.
“I think it is great honor and opportunity to show other young girls, and frankly young boys for that matter, that they can be anything they want to be if get a good education, work hard, dream big and never give up,” Fallin said.
Progress still needed
According to Rutgers’ Center for American Woman and Politics, the number of women in state legislatures across the country increased almost every year in the past three decades. However, only six women are currently serving as governor and men control about 75 percent of the country’s state legislative seats.
Rose said national studies and the success of candidates, such as Askins or Fallin, illustrate that the problem is not voters finding women unelectable. Instead, she said the problem is convincing women to want to run.
“Studies found that when women run, their ability to succeed is equal to men,” she said. “But some women still view it as a place where they don’t belong. When you sit in the gallery and see just five women in the Senate and 12 in the House, it doesn’t look particularly female inclusive.”
Rose said bringing more women into politics is important because elected officials will more closely reflect the constituents they represent. She said bringing more diverse viewpoints to the legislative process could refocus attention on issues important to women such as equality in pay.
A study by the Center for American Woman and Politics found women state legislators reported they are about twice less likely to decide to first run for political office without being recruited or asked to run. Rose said this is why organizations and political parties must actively seek out women and convince them to seek office.
“It is very much a word-of-mouth effort,” she said. “It takes a lot of feet on the ground, but when you can get them to run, in this day and age, they have an equal chance of being elected.”
Trevor Brown covers the Oklahoma statehouse for CNHI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Women in government nationally:
- 16.8 percent: Percentage women make up of the 111th U.S. Congress
- 22.5 percent: Percentage women make up of the nation’s 315 statewide elected executive offices
- 24.5 percent: Percentage women make up of the 7,382 state legislators in the nation.
- 6: Number of women governors currently serving
- 9: Number of women lieutenant governors currently serving
Source: Center for American Women and Politics
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Gender gap in Oklahoma government:
- U.S. Congress: 1 woman, 6 men
- State Senate: 5 women, 43 men
- State House of Representatives: 12 women, 89 men
Source: Center for American Women and Politics
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- 1920: Rep. Amelia Elizabeth “Bessie” McColgin and Sen. Lamar Looney become the first women elected to the state legislature.
- 1921: U.S. Rep Alice Mary Robertson becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
- 1991: Jari Askins becomes the first female chair of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.
- 1995: Mary Fallin becomes the first woman elected to lieutenant governor.
- 2005: Jari Askins becomes the first woman to serve as the state’s Democratic House leader.
- 2005: Marry Fallin becomes the second woman to be elected to Congress.