THE BLOG
07/30/2014 08:41 am ET | Updated Sep 28, 2014

Women who made their mark on Illinois government

Even though the residents of Illinois are 49 percent male and 51 percent female, the legislative body that represents Illinoisans, the General Assembly, is 31.6 percent women and 68.4 percent male. The means Illinois has the seventh-most gender equal state legislature in the country, and more gender equal than the United States Congress, which is 18.5 percent female.

Legislatures can still be representative without matching the exact demographic breakdown of its constituents. But what would Illinois government look like with more women involved?

A 2011 study from the University of Chicago suggests that women who are involved in politics tend to be better at "logrolling, agenda-setting, coalition building, and other deal-making activities" than male policy makers. And League of Women Voters of Illinois Executive Director Mary Shaafsma said that though Illinoisans value a generally well-qualified candidate more than the candidate's gender, sometimes "women bring a different level of thoughfulness that men don't always."

Women have been getting involved in Illinois politics for as long as women have been able to vote (and even before, as champions of women's suffrage). Lottie Holman O'Neill was elected as an Illinois state representative in 1922 and then went on to be Illinois' first female state senator in 1950. Women have been playing important roles more recently as well: State Attorney General Lisa Madigan is Illinois' first female attorney general and is currently the most senior state attorney general in the country.

Democrat Madigan is up for reelection in November, challenged by Republican Paul Schimpf. Though Madigan is generally seen as having solid support throughout the state, Schimpf paid for a poll that he says shows he is a legitimate threat to her reelection. In it, 46 percent of likely voters said they would vote for Madigan and 37 percent said Schimpf, which is a smaller gap than a Reboot Illinois poll found in June--51 percent for Madigan and 35 percent for Schimpf.