Women and political offices

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A good many studies, policy institutes, and editorialists lament the fact that not many women hold political office, especially statewide office.

This has been furthest from the truth in Alabama, especially when it comes to the secondary statewide offices of Treasurer, Auditor, and Secretary of State.

Women started dominating these offices as early as the 1950s and 60s in Alabama and still have possession today. The early ice breakers were Agnes Baggett, Sybil Poole, Mary Texas Hurt Garner, Melba Till Allen, Annie Laura Gunter, and Juanita McDaniel. These women held statewide office in Alabama when very few states, even the so-called progressive and more liberal states had all men in state office.

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Jan Cook came on the scene in the 80s and is still in office. Lucy Baxley became Treasurer in 1994 and eight years later moved up the ladder to Lt. Governor.

She is the first woman to hold this office. The speculation in most political corners is that Lucy Baxley may very well be the front runner for Governor in 2006. If this comes to fruition she will not be Alabama’s first female Governor. As you know Lurleen Wallace holds that distinction.

In 1966 Lurleen Wallace, running as a stand in for her legendary husband, won the Governor’s race going away. She beat a formidable field of nine male candidates without a runoff and set vote getting records doing it. Her election that year was nothing less than phenomenal. It would seem improbable if not impossible that any candidate could get more than 50% of the vote against nine other candidates. It becomes even more impressive when you consider the field of candidates she thrashed.

Included in the field were two former Governors, Big Jim Folsom and John Patterson, the Attorney General of Alabama, Richmond Flowers, who ran second, Congressman Carl Elliot, and two State Senators, including Bob Gilchrist of Decatur who was seeking to garner the support of the recently deceased Ryan deGraffenried who had passed away three months earlier in a plane crash.

In the November general election Lurleen easily defeated Congressman Jim Martin, the Republican nominee. Governor Lurleen Wallace thus became the first, and so far the only, female Governor of Alabama. She was a very beloved Governor who died of cancer two years into her term.

If Lucy Baxley were to win in 2006 it would be exactly 40 years between female Governors. It might be worth giving it another try because I would not say that the men who have held the job over that period have done such an outstanding job.

The trend nationwide is moving toward more women taking their rightful place in positions of political power. The number of female Governors and United States Senators has more than doubled in the past decade. It makes sense because there are more women voters than men and polls indicate that voters tend to trust women more than men.

Another trend that is not difficult to see is the demographic change in America. The growth of the Hispanic population has made this ethnic group the largest non Caucasian segment of our population. By 2020 Caucasians or people of European descent will no longer be the majority. This trend will make it hard for the Republican Party to keep control of Congress. After the 2010 census is taken there will have to be at least 25 new Hispanic and African American congressional districts and swing states will be affected by this influx of new voters in Senatorial and Presidential races.

I also predict that celebrities will become an ever more prevalent pool from which major national candidates will arise. Movie stars, sports heroes, TV personalities and radio talk show hosts will be all over the country in Senate seats and as future Presidential candidates. Glamour and charisma is what attracts today’s voters. These celebrities have household name identification, their own campaign money, and are professional actors already, which is what politicians basically are. They start miles ahead of the rest of the field.

A final prediction I will make is that New York Senator, Hillary Clinton, will be the Democratic nominee for President in 2008 and may very well become the nation’s first female President.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 60 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.