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California women underrepresented in Legislature

November 4, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Rachel Michelin of California Women Lead has been sounding the alarm for months.

Women could lose up to seven seats in the state Legislature after Tuesday's election, bringing the total number of women serving to 27 out of 120.

She's had little luck convincing more women to run for a Senate or Assembly seat. She's found women won't run because of family commitments and because of Sacramento's famous partisanship and gridlock.

"They look at the state Legislature and feel like, 'What problems can I really solve?' They don't seem to be solving a lot of problems."

Female voices are considered essential when developing policy. For example, take the national headlines male politicians made this year about reproductive rights or rape. Critics say the debate would have been different with women included.

"All rape is a crime, and they wouldn't qualify that on the floor of the Legislature," said Kathy Kneer, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. "That's the advantage of having women. They have a very unique perspective."

At the state level, years of unprecedented cuts to the budget have mostly affected women, and some wonder who will look out for them.

"I fear that the things that are important to women such as childcare, education and elder care, things like that, we won't have strong voice on those issues," said state Sen. Noreen Evans of Santa Rosa, the Democratic Women's Caucus Chairwoman.

Recruiters often turn to local government to find potential candidates, but the numbers there aren't great either. It's roughly just 24 percent.

"We're going to wake up Nov. 7 and the make-up of the Legislature could look very different that it did the morning of Nov. 6," Michelin said.

Michelin is already looking for candidates for the 2014 and 2016 elections.


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