Thursday, September 20, 2018

Women's equality -- yes, it's political -- Sept. 20, 2018 column


Asked when there will be enough women on the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has a ready answer.

“When there are nine,” she says. “People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

Ginsburg’s provocative response came to mind during the debacle surrounding President Donald Trump’s selection of Brett Kavanaugh for the nation’s highest court. Trump could have nominated a woman.

After all, President Ronald Reagan nominated the first woman justice – Sandra Day O’Connor.

We’re nowhere near Ginsburg’s goal. Only three of the nine are women – Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. 

Not that choosing a woman to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy would have guaranteed smooth sailing. It’s easy to imagine Trump choosing the wrong woman just as President George W. Bush did in 2005.

Bush crashed on the rocks of public opinion with his ill-conceived choice of White House counsel Harriet Miers to replace O’Connor. Miers, who had no judicial experience, was such an unsuitable pick she withdrew before her confirmation hearing.

Bush then chose federal appellate judge Samuel Alito, who is one of the most conservative justices.

Americans consistently tell pollsters they’d like to see more women leaders in both politics and business.

Majorities of Americans say having more women in top positions in government and business would improve the quality of life for everyone, for men and for women, according to the latest Pew Research Center survey released Thursday.

But there’s a gender gap. Seven in 10 women say there should be more women in high political office and in top business jobs, but only about half of men say so.

And – no surprise -- Democrats and Republicans see the state of women’s equality very differently. Nearly eight in 10 Democrats and Democratically-leaning independents say too few women hold high political office, but only one in three Republicans and Republican-leaners think so.

With the most women running for Congress ever, the looming question for the midterms is whether voters will make this truly a Year of the Woman.

The dismal approval rating of the Republican-controlled Congress – still bumping the bottom at 19 percent in the latest Gallup poll – suggests a desire for change.

Only 31 percent of Republicans approve of the way Congress handles its job, but that’s far higher than the 8 percent of Democrats who approve. Among independents, 17 percent approve of the job Congress is doing.

The current Congress has a record 112 women – 89 in the House and 23 in the Senate – but that’s only 21 percent of the total. Most the women are Democrats – 64 in the House and 17 in the Senate.

For a sense of how long it’s taken women to get this far, 52 women have ever served in the Senate and 23 are serving now.

Of the 53 women who filed to run for the U.S. Senate this year, 23 made it through their primaries and are still in the running. In the House, 239 of the 476 women who filed are still in the running, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Several Democratic women in the House are forming Elect Democratic Women, a PAC inspired by the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus, that plans to raise money for female Democratic candidates.

“We really feel very strongly that better decisions will be made by government when it represents the diverse population it is supposed to represent,” Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Florida, chairwoman of the group, told Politico.

Winning for Women PAC, whose leaders include former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, formed last year to endorse conservative candidates and serve as a counterweight to EMILY’s List, the powerful Democratic group that endorses abortion rights candidates.   

The competing PACs are emerging as women worry women candidates may be losing ground. Women are more doubtful now than they were four years ago that voters are ready to elect women, Pew found.

In 2014, about 41 percent of women thought the main reason women were underrepresented in high political offices was voters weren’t ready to elect women. Now, after Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss, 57 percent of women say they think voters aren’t ready.  

We’ll know the night of Nov. 6.

©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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