...laws made by men, under a government of men, interpreted by men and for the benefit of men." - Susan B. Anthony to Justice Ward Hunt, upon her sentencing on June 19, 1873 for committing the crime of voting.
For all the talk about reforming Albany, from the independent organizations to the candidates running for governor, there is one surefire way voters can help the cause--electing more women to the state legislature.
One would think that New York would be a leader in among state houses. After all, we are the home to Rochester's Susan B. Anthony, who on Election Day, November 5, 1872, cast her vote for women's suffrage at the West End News Depot and was subsequently convicted of the crime of voting. The facts tell a much different story.
The New York State Senate did not have a woman serve until 1934 when Rhoda Fox Graves, a Republican from St. Lawrence County, was elected. Upon her election the New York State Senate had 51 members, bringing the gender balance from zero to 2% women and 98% men.
Today, more than three quarters of a century later, the New York State Senate currently has 10 women in its membership of 62, bringing the gender balance to 16.1% women to 83.9% men. Meanwhile, New Hampshire leads the nation with a Senate that is 54% women. New York ranks 40th in the nation, dragging along at the bottom third, with state senates that have fewer than 20% women, such as Alabama, Alaska, Mississippi and South Carolina.
At 16.1% the Women of the New York State Senate are constrained by their status and need increased representation to shape the agenda of the larger body. According to Nora Bredes, President of the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee, the troubling truth is, "[r]esearch shows that when a minority group has only a token status in a larger, decision-making body -- say about 15 percent -- that minority's voice is muted. It may take a critical mass of 30 percent or more before the life experiences, values and beliefs of the minority are powerful enough to shape the agenda of the larger body."
Research over the past thirty years has focused on the positive impact of women legislator's on state and local governments revealing the shared values that make electing women so important. But that impact is limited unless there is more than token representation.
• Progressive Values - Women legislators of both parties are more likely to advance "women's issues" resulting in the prioritization of bills dealing with children, education, and health care.
• New Solutions - Women conceptualize problems differently and are more likely to offer new solutions.
• Legislative Reform - Women legislators emphasize collegiality and collaboration over the hierarchical approach typical of machine politics with women using Chairs facilitating rather than controlling debate.
• Helping Constituents - Women legislators receive more constituent casework requests then their male colleagues, are more responsive and more likely to follow through to get a favorable resolution for their constituents.
This year, the New York State Senate Democratic Campaign Committee has successfully recruited twelve women candidates for the New York State Senate and profiled them at 16andrising.com. If three quarters of these women are elected we will have 19 women Senators, achieving the thirty percent critical mass necessary to fundamentally change the Senate so that it can grow toward becoming the best legislature in the nation.
Five strong Democratic women candidates have already begun taking a leadership role by standing up for what is right. Susan Savage (SD-44), Mary Wilmot (SD-55), Joanne Yepsen (SD-43), Kathleen Joy (SD-50), and Robin Wilt (SD-56), all took a courageous stand against Albany corruption by endorsing insurgent Gustavo Rivera against disgraced Senator Pedro Espada, Jr. and pledging to oppose Espada for any leadership role in the Senate in the event he won. All of five of these women candidates deserve to be elected and would dramatically change the culture in Albany.
New Roosevelt Initiative will continue to recruit, train, and support insurgent candidates who will bring the leadership Albany needs to reform and become the best legislature in the nation.
Bill Samuels, is the founder of the New Roosevelt Initiative.
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