AUGUSTA – Compared to other states, Maine’s ranking for the number of women serving in state legislatures has gone down.

But the number of women representing the Lewiston-Auburn delegation in the Maine Legislature – seven women out of nine seats – is high, probably the highest of any other delegation, according to the legislative roster.

As events continue throughout this month for Women’s History Month, Sarah Standiford of the Maine Women’s Policy Center calls the L-A delegation “one of the bright spots” for women in politics.

In 1991 Maine had the second-highest percentage of female state legislators in the country. This year, that ranking fell to 23, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Last November’s election delivered 33 women to 128 open seats in the House of Representatives, 11 women to 24 open seats in the Senate.

“There’s been a decline,” said Standiford. “We need to do more work in recruiting and engaging women to run for office.”

For the second time, Maine has a female Senate president, Beth Edmonds, a Freeport Democrat. “And Lewiston-Auburn is doing great,” Standiford said. “That’s a testament to individuals and organizations that are stirring women’s involvement in the community.”

The female majority representing L-A are: Sens. Peggy Rotundo and Lois Snowe-Mello, and Reps. Margaret Craven, Elaine Makas, Deborah Pelletier-Simpson, Sonya Sampson, and Lillian O’Brien.

Rounding out the L-A delegation are Reps. William Walcott and Thomas Shields.

In Portland, no female legislators represent Maine’s largest city. In Bangor-Brewer, two out of eight legislators are women. In Augusta, two out of four are women.

“Portland needs to ante up, they need to get themselves some more women,” said Edmonds.

More recruiting is needed, she said, noting that women make up 51 percent of the population. Unlike men, women need encouragement to run, she said. “They need to be asked,” Edmonds said. “We thought the word was out. But what we’re finding is that we need to keep repeating the message.”

As a member of the L-A male minority, Walcott, a Lewiston Democrat, said he’s fine with the female majority. Exhibiting his political skills, Walcott said that from where he sits in the House chamber, “I’m surrounded by great women of Lewiston-Auburn.” His childhood helped prepared him for this, he said. “I had four older sisters and no brothers.”

Sometimes it’s easier to work with women, he said, because in his experience women listen better than men, “even if their minds are made up.”

L-A lawmakers said they weren’t sure why the delegation is mostly female. “When I first came up here (to the House), they were all men representing Lewiston,” O’Brien said.

One reason could be that once women get in office they recruit others, because other women are in their social circles. Then, more important, they offer to help, said both O’Brien and Craven, who recalled their mentors, former legislators Patricia Lamaire and Susan Farnsworth.

Edmonds, who recently attended the funeral of former Sen. Georgette Berube of Lewiston, credited Berube for the number of women now representing Lewiston-Auburn.

Lewiston voters understood that Berube was effective and kept voting for her, Edmonds said. Berube had the longest record of service of any woman in the Maine Legislature. That may have encouraged other voters not to discount female candidates. When an area has a history of women serving, it’s more likely others will follow, Edmonds said.

Female legislators said they hope more women will consider politics and public service.

Last year, a young woman shadowed Rotundo in the Senate. As a result of their day together, “she ran for governor of Girls State last year, and she won,” Rotundo said. “I do believe we make a difference as role models.”

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