Colorado leads the nation with 41% of the state legislature comprised of women. As the 2012 Colorado legislative session begins, 41 women return to their positions as representatives (24) and senators (17). We can be proud of our leadership on women as elected officials, but there are other indicators that should give rise to real concern for the future: representation on local commissions and councils remains low, the number of women who will return to the legislature next year is uncertain, and U.S. Representative Diana DeGette looks set to stay the only woman in Colorado's congressional delegation.
While our 41% of lawmakers is a national high, it remains a far cry from equal representation, since 50% of the Colorado population is female! And our votes typically are the key to winning races in this state. So let's say we flex a little muscle starting now.
With an amazing group of women in U.S. Senate races nationally, some are calling 2012 the "Year of the Woman." But our efforts need to be broader in scope than just the Senate.
That's why I am calling on all women in Colorado and beyond: 2012 should be the "Year of the Woman," and we should not let this opportunity pass us by. It is not just about the number of women that will be sworn in January 2013, but using 2012 as a catalyzing year in which we continue to shape the system and create sustainable change.
Ensuring that this November at the polls is as positive for women as it can be begins now by taking simple steps and, for those ready, daring jumps into the public arena:
Read and Stay Informed: Seriously. This is one of the easiest and best things you can do. Beyond the traditional media, Twitter, Facebook and local blogs are all tools to keep everyone informed and interactive.
Participate in a Primary or Caucus and Take your Daughter: By getting involved in the race early and getting your daughter involved in the "behind the scenes" work, you are making it easier for you to stay informed about the race and helping her see why we need more women.
Get Involved in a Campaign: Colorado may be expected to see several contentious issues before the state legislature, but all states in a presidential election year will see a wide-range of policy issues, ballot initiatives, and local referenda. Get involved in something you are passionate about -- even just a few hours phone banking and canvassing can mean all the difference.
Join a Board: Believe it or not, many local boards and commissions often have vacancies year round and they also act as great hubs for political discussions and networking.
Change Culture: If you haven't seen the trailer or read the blogs, there's a growing movement around movies like Miss Representation that ask us to consider how we view women in the media. This weekend, when you consider which movie to rent, pick something with an empowering message.
Empower Another Woman: Women need to help other women to get into positions of leadership and it starts with you. Find a mentor to become empowered or become a mentor to a younger woman.
Tell Another Woman She Should Run: You know that friend of yours who is always griping about politics? Help her see this year that she deserves a spot at the table and that she should run. The White House Project believes that women need to be asked to run for office, so ask a woman in your life to run!
RUN -- It's Not Too Late: It's only January and there is still time to file for candidacy. It is time to throw out all of the excuses and shrug off your hesitations: you have a story to tell, a valuable voice, and a reason to run. Find your team, find your voice, and head to filling office.
Women have had the right to vote in Colorado since 1893 -- 27 years before the 19th Amendment gave them the right to vote in federal elections. And this year, Colorado will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first female state senator to be elected (only the second in the nation). We have a proud history of women in elected office.
But there are still many goals to be accomplished. Colorado has yet to elect a female to the governor's seat or to the U.S. Senate. On a global level, the U.S. ranks 71st in the number of women elected to office -- behind Greece, Kazakhstan, and Venezuela.
Women still not have found equality in the halls of Congress, at the corporate boardroom table and in our everyday lives. But we can begin to change that in 2012. Eight years from now, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote. My goal for 2020 is to see women represented at every level of leadership from school boards and town councils to the White House. Let's start the movement in Colorado!
Follow Katie Groke Ellis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@grokey