Unless you have been vacationing on Mars, you know the 2016 campaign season is well underway. This year’s municipal elections are merely the warm up — albeit an important one given questions of leadership swirling in all quarters of our community, for the onslaught coming next year. Candidates are already declaring themselves, and who knows how many others are pondering privately.
Given that, here is something for the rest of us to ponder.
A study released late last month by Meredith College in Raleigh finds that women are woefully under-represented in both elective and appointive positions in our state. Women now make up less than 25 percent of these officials and only 20 percent of elected positions that have taxing and spending authority, such as city council, county commissioners and legislators. Just over half, 56 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, have a woman commissioner. These numbers have declined in our state since the 2010 mid-term elections, as they have in other states.
These sad numbers exist despite the fact that women make up more than 51 percent of our state’s population and 54 percent of our state’s registered voters.
So why does this matter? What difference does it make that the great preponderance of our elected and appointed decision makers are men, most of them white? Are women better at these jobs than men?
It matters because when decisions that affect all of us are made, those decisions will be better if there are more voices with a variety of life experiences at the table. Some women are better than some men at decision making and vice versa, but the reality is that if our public decisions are being made mainly by one class of people — say for example, white men over 50 — other voices are not being heard and certainly not in proportion to their percentages in the general population. My life experience includes marriage, children, life in a North Carolina metropolitan area and a career in a family business. That experience is different from that of an African-American man who lives in rural North Carolina and who has farmed for most of his life. Our state is among the fastest growing in the nation, and people are coming to us from other states and other nations. No one’s experience is better than others but all deserve to be part of the decision making process.
There are all sorts of reasons why women are under-represented, including family obligations. Among the most galling to me is the well-researched fact, which the Meredith study notes, that men run for office at younger ages and when asked to consider elective service more often than not consider themselves “well-qualified” candidates. Women are more likely to think: “Who me?”
The good news for all of us is that when women do run, they are likely to be elected. Last year, 25 percent of candidates in North Carolina were women, and 63 percent of them were elected to the office they sought. One reason for this is that voters consider women trustworthy, and a generic candidate named “Jane” will get a 2 to 5 percent leg up from voters over her generic opponent named “John.”
I am sure there are many reasons for this as well, but one that comes to mind for me is Anthony Weiner, my personal poster boy for how not to behave as an elected official. Have you ever heard of a woman candidate or elected official texting photos of her various parts to some unsuspecting fellow via cyberspace?
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This year’s NCAA tournament is history with my team hoping for a better tomorrow, but there is some good sports news. The New York Times reported that Fayetteville’s own Shea Ralph, is returning after five seasons in Pittsburgh to the University of Connecticut, the scene of her greatest triumph so far, as an assistant coach of the women’s basketball team. Ralph was captain of the Huskies when they won the NCAA women’s championship in 2000. Before that, though, she was one of Terry Sanford High School’s greatest scholars/athletes ever, graduating with a 4.2 academic average while being a basketball star and lettering in soccer, cross country and track along the way. She was the 1996 USA Today National Player of the Year before becoming a college basketball legend.
The Dickson connection to Shea Ralph?
Her dad tutored at least one Precious Jewel through algebra.
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And, from the “say it ain’t so” department, North Carolina is losing her Southern drawl.
That is the word from Robin Dodsworth, an associate linguistics professor at N.C. State, and it is especially true in our urban areas, which have new residents from many other places. Duckworth says, “…little by little over the course of several decades Southern features kind of got washed out.”
Maybe and sadly so, but there are compensations.
I have Yankee friends who routinely and comfortably use our Southern all-purpose word, “ya’ll.”
Some of them also say, “Well, bless your heart.”