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Women a rare commodity in Oklahoma Legislature

Oklahoma has a female governor and was the first in the nation to elect a woman to statewide political office, but when it comes to electing women to the Legislature, the state ranks among the worst in the nation.

By SEAN MURPHY, AP Published: November 22, 2012
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“The financial burden that serving in the Oklahoma Legislature can place on a family kind of prohibits women who have achieved status professionally from making a political run,” said Griffin, R-Guthrie, who served as the director of a nonprofit agency before being elected.

Oklahoma lawmakers earn $38,400 annually, plus daily per diem and mileage reimbursement when the Legislature is in session.

Griffin, who has two children ages 14 and 11, said balancing a family with being a lawmaker also can be a challenge, especially for lawmakers who live outside of the Oklahoma City metro area.

“I'm fortunate that I live close to the metro,” Griffin said. “My colleagues in the Senate all have children, but their children are all adults.”

But Rose said she's found many women are hesitant to run simply because there's a perception that the Oklahoma Legislature is a “good `ol boys club.”

“It's just a matter of convincing women that they should run,” Rose said. “You also look at how negative campaigning has become, and that's often something that keeps them out. It's very ferocious, and that's not how a lot of women operate.”

Ruth Mandel, a founder of the Center for American Women and Politics and now the director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said women have made tremendous political strides over the last several decades, growing from composing less than 5 percent of state legislatures in the early 1970s to about 24 percent nationally today.

“Overcoming that history is a slow, evolutionary process in our society,” Mandel said. “When we began to study this, the southern states had the lowest representations in state legislatures, and as things began to change … they began to change very slowly.

“We're going to see the same pattern of more participation over time, but the south was starting from a position far back and is still moving forward slowly.”

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Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy