Brace for the Pink Wave
By Jean Godden
Everyone was anticipating a Blue Wave to hit during Midterm elections. So it was no surprise that a Blue Wave did indeed sweep dozens of Democrats into the U. S. House of Representatives.
What did surprise was the Pink Wave, masses of women swept into the nation's House. Women also flooded state legislatures, governors' mansions and county and city offices. Not even in 1992, the so-called Year of the Woman, was there such a feminist groundswell.
The numbers are dizzying. While one or two races remain undecided, it is certain that Congress will be home to at least 123 women (out of 538 members). The House will be much bluer, with 113 women lawmakers projected; 98 democrats and 15 Republicans. The U. S. Senate, however, had few vulnerable races and continues redder than before.
Washingtonians will be sending a 12-person delegation to the other Washington. In the House, the split is five women (three of them Democrats) and five men (four Democrats) representing the state's 10 congressional districts. Our two women senators -- Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell -- join with only seven -- maybe eight -- other women in the Republican-dominated Senate.
Main reason for the unprecedented Pink Wave was the army of women who made the decision to run for office. It seemed as if the Women's Marches of the past two years stampeded directly into the ballot box. In the past, it was difficult to recruit women candidates; this year women candidates were everywhere.
Washington state outshone past successes. In the landmark Year of the Woman, the state led the nation in the Legislature's female representation, but in recent decades those gains dwindled, with female representation down to around 30 percent. This year, once recounts are done, Washington likely will lead the nation with 44 percent women in the Legislature.
All of this leads us to ask the difficult question: Does it make a difference if we elect women or men? Does it really matter? Surely there is a range of political thinking -- liberal women, conservative men and the reverse. Gender ought not have a monopoly on good ideas; but, in practice, that isn't always true.
Without regard to party, women in office tend to concentrate more on family-related issues. I remember a time, some years ago, when I was part of a group from the Center for Women and Democracy helping train women running for office in Morocco. The women represented a spectrum of different parties, 26 of them -- ranging from very traditional to thoughly modern. But, when they gave their two-minute talks, the Moroccan women's platforms were almost identical. They all backed health care, education and job training. None championed defense, transportation or economic development, even when those were their party's goals.
It is expected that the new Pink Wave in Washington state will also concentrate on family friendly issues. It would be surprising if health care, education and training were not top concerns. With both state house and senate in Democratic hands and large numbers of women legislators, there will be no excuse for not providing full K-12 funding with ample support for special education.
There will be no defense for not making legislative business fully transparent, just as city and county officials must do. And there will be no justification for not taking measures to combat global warning. The Pink Wave should take further steps to narrow the state's gender wage gap and to establish an effective system for reporting sexual harassment and abuse at the Capitol.
The women who took the plunge and ran for office in this state decided their voices needed to be heard. The Pink Wave can now make valuable contributions to our state government. We, the citizens, can be grateful that these elected women are rolling up their sleeves and beginning the hard work to get these important jobs done.