Women Rule

If you want to run for office, being female is a plus.

Illustration by Peter Noonan

It's raining women, hallelujah, it's raining women.

This month New Hampshire will swear in an all-female delegation to Washington and the second elected female governor. It's another "first-in-the-nation" moment for the Granite State.

When Carol Shea-Porter, D-Rochester, and Annie Kuster, D-Hopkinton, are sworn in in early January, it will be the first time in US history that a state's two US Senators and all members of Congress are women.

This is remarkable because only 20 states have ever sent a woman to the Senate. That includes latecomers North Dakota and Massachusetts, which just elected women in November.

It is also notable how fast it all happened. New Hampshire sent its first woman, Shea-Porter, to Congress just six years ago. Four years ago the state elected Jeanne Shaheen to join Shea-Porter. Two years ago Shea-Porter lost but Republican Kelly Ayotte went to the Senate. This past November the voters replaced the state's two male Congressmen with two females.

"It’s another first-in-the-nation moment for the Granite State."

New Hampshire has other firsts for women in politics as well. The state was first to have its House Speaker, Senate President and Governor be all female. Also, the state Senate in 2008 was the first legislative body in history to have a majority of females. Shaheen is the first woman to serve as both a governor and US Senator, and newly-elected Maggie Hassan is currently the only female Democratic governor in the nation.

As a whole, only about 20 percent of the US Senate and Congress are women. Research suggests a number of reasons why women don't have their 50 percent share of elected positions in the country - but much of it is the lack of positions for women to run for because male incumbents have held onto these seats for years. This, perhaps, may explain why New Hampshire is a place of such firsts. With a 424-person Legislature that is part-time with high turnover, there are plenty of positions for which women can campaign.

In fact, while the Washington delegation and governor get most of the attention, overlooked is the fact that in Concord not only is there now a female governor, but a female House Speaker.

Peter Bragdon jokes that he goes by two titles: State Senate President or "the man" since he seems to be the only guy around in a position of power anymore.

Where all of this goes remains to be seen. For the time being, though, being a woman is a plus. Republicans will consider a woman to lead their state party later this month and are already floating the idea of female candidates to take on female incumbents. When NH politicos talk about potential candidates, the phrase "and she is a woman" is a net positive where in other states it could hurt.

And when the nation finally elects the first female president, perhaps her journey will have begun in New Hampshire.

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