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Oklahoma's ratio of women in Legislature among nation's lowest

Women make up a slight majority of Oklahomans, but that doesn't translate into representation in the Legislature and Congress.
BY CHASE COOK and DARREN JAWORSKI -- Oklahoma Watch Modified: April 8, 2013 at 10:11 pm •  Published: April 9, 2013

Data-Driven: Profile of the Oklahoma Legislature

Use the interactive graphic below to learn more about the composition of the Legislature. Each bubble represents a Senate or House member, and the bubbles are colored according to party affiliation: red for Republican, blue for Democrat. The larger the bubble, the longer the legislator has served in office. A note about race/ethnicity: For Native Americans, only House Native American Caucus members are listed. Two of the members, Reps. T.W. Shannon and Anatasia Pittman, are not listed in the caucus group, rather in the grouping for African-Americans.

By Darren Jaworski, Oklahoma Watch

Sources: Oklahoma Legislature, Oklahoma Ethics Commission.

Oklahoma has the fourth-lowest percentage of female legislators in the nation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

There are four women among 48 Senate members, and 16 women among 101 House members. Altogether, women make up 13.4 percent of the state's legislators, slightly ahead of Alabama, South Carolina and Louisiana. States with the largest shares of women are Colorado, 42 percent, and Vermont, 41 percent.

In Congress, a record number of women — 98, or 18 percent — took office in January, but Oklahoma was not part of that trend. The state's delegation has no women.

Women comprise 51 percent of Oklahoma's population.

Females aren't the only group whose political representation is lower than its share of the population. In the Legislature, six members (4 percent) are black and one member (0.7 percent) is Hispanic. Statewide, 7.4 percent of Oklahoma's population is black and 8.9 percent is Hispanic, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

State Rep. Emily Virgin D-Norman, 26, said she believes the Legislature needs more women because women frame issues differently than men. Women tend to be more empathic of people who are poor and disadvantaged and focus more on issues of poverty, education, families and children, she said.

Also, “things work better and more smoothly when there are more women involved,” she said. “Compromise is more encouraged if more women are involved.”

When Virgin was elected, she was concerned that being young and female would be an obstacle to her success, but said she found the opposite. Women can be effective lawmakers, she said.

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Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit investigative team established to report on public policy issues in Oklahoma. It is funded by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Tulsa Community Foundation.


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