Elected women in N.H. set records


CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – A record number of women will serve in the state Legislature over the next two years.

The November election that gave Democrats control of both Congressional seats, the governor’s office, the state Legislature and the Executive Council also produced the highest percentage ever of female lawmakers. With 146 women elected to the House and 10 elected to the Senate, women will make up 37 percent of the Legislature, topping the previous record of 34 percent elected in 1992. In the last two-year session, women made up 30 percent of the Legislature.

“When women take their seats on Jan. 3, they also will take a place in the history of the state,” said Theresa de Langis, executive director of the New Hampshire Commission on the Status of Women.

The jump is most dramatic in the state Senate. During the 2005-2006 session, women held just five of the 24 Senate seats. Starting this week, they’ll hold twice that many.

The success rate of female candidates was the same for both bodies of the Legislature: 66 percent of the women who ran for either the House or Senate were elected.

The increased number of female lawmakers could result in a shift of priorities in state government, de Langis said.

“Most people agree that women come to the decision-making table with different skills,” she said. “They bring a different view.”

That view often involves focusing on what de Langis calls the “infrastructure” issues that would allow more women to participate in the public and private sectors.

“Child care issues, education, health care – these are traditionally areas of interest to women,” she said.

In 1999, New Hampshire became the first to have a female governor (Jeanne Shaheen), House speaker (Donna Sytek) and Senate president (Beverly Hollingworth) serve at the same time. At the time, the women said they expected to work well together not because of their gender but because they all served as lawmakers before becoming leaders.

Incoming House Speaker Teri Norelli points out that women traditionally have served in large numbers in the state Legislature. She said the gains made in the last election have been a topic of conversation in her office recently, but more in the context of the increased number of women in leadership roles.

“I often find myself sitting around a table where there are six women and one male, and it is often the male who comments on how nice it is to be working with women,” she said.

Information from: Portsmouth Herald, http://www.seacoastonline.com

AP-ES-01-01-07 1150EST