BOULDER, Colo. — It's Women's History Month and here in Colorado we're celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first woman to serve in the state Senate.
But Colorado's history of women in politics goes back further than that. Women got the vote in our state in 1893, and the next year three women were elected to the state House, the first in the nation to serve in
a state legislature.
This year, Colorado has the highest proportion of women in the state legislature; 40 of our 100 elected lawmakers are female.
The rest of the country, alas, isn’t keeping pace. In Congress, women make up only 17 percent of both houses, including 17 seats in the Senate.
That number may even decline next year, with Maine moderate Olympia Snowe leaving the Senate, frustrated by the incessant partisan bickering in Congress.
Ohio's Super Tuesday primary results also forced Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt from her seat with her loss to newcomer Brad Wenstrup, who emphasized his conservative and military credentials. But Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur defeated incumbent Rep. Dennis Kucinich in their primary battle in a redrawn district.
Why is it important to elect women to office?
Parity is one reason. When we make up 51 percent of the population, we could almost plead taxation without representation.
Snowe's sense of compromise and collaboration are an even better reason. She and her fellow Maine Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, vote their conscience, not their party.
Recently, the two split on a rider on the transportation bill that would have weakened contraception coverage in health-care reform, for instance.
During that debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) made an interesting observation:
“If the United States Senate had 83 women and 17 men rather than 83 men and 17 women, my strong guess is that a bill like this would never even make it to the floor.”
Indeed, if there were more women there, perhaps the Senate would be debating the economy, jobs and the deficit instead of playing partisan games.
There are several organizations working to elect more women to office this year. Smart Girl Politics is recruiting and training conservative women. The White House Project offers nonpartisan training for women running for office, as does Ready To Run, which is based at Rutgers University. And the 2012 Project, also affiliated with Rutgers, is recruiting professional women to run this year.
Some filing dates are past, others are coming up — and there's still plenty of opportunity to nominate women for office in Maine, Colorado and many other states.
It's been 20 years since the so-called "year of the woman" in 1992, when the number of congresswomen increased from 32 to 54. Today, women hold 90 seats.
Perhaps we can do better in 2012.
Sandra Fish teaches journalism at the University of Colorado and has reported on politics in Iowa, Florida and Colorado. Follow her on Twitter at @fishnette.