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Fewer Women in Office Than Men in Connecticut

Fewer Women in Office Than Men in Connecticut

The Associated Press, July 26, 2016

By Susan Haigh

HARTFORD — Like much of the country, women in Connecticut lag behind men when it comes to elected representation in city halls, state legislature and Congress.

Women make up 28.3 percent of the state's General Assembly membership. Seven Connecticut women have served in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, the state has never elected a female U.S. senator despite being the first in the country to elect a female governor in her own right — Ella T. Grasso — back in 1974. M. Jodi Rell later became the state's second female governor in 2004.

"Not for nothing, I'm kind of sick and tired of being on this island on my own," said Republican New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, who works with a 15-member City Council with just one female.

As Hillary Clinton is poised to accept the Democratic Party's nomination for president this week, women account for just a fifth of all U.S. representatives and senators. There are now six female governors. And women account for one in four state lawmakers across the country.

Women's Campaign School at Yale back to top

But Patricia Russo, executive director of the Women's Campaign School at Yale University in New Haven, said she sees an encouraging shift toward younger women becoming interested in elective politics.

At the school's last class, which ran June 13-17, half the participants were 30 or younger.

Twenty-two years ago, when the nonpartisan campaign school for female candidates and campaign managers began, the median age was mid-40s. Half of this year's participants, who come from across the U.S. and the world, were minorities.

"This is a very, very exciting trend. We're definitely trending younger," said Russo, who credits the election of President Barack Obama as the nation's first black president as a "floodgate moment" that encouraged millennials to get involved in campaigns and run for office.

Roughly 2,000 or more women have gone through the program, including U.S. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York; U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Connecticut; and former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Arizona.

"Ten years ago, women would come to the school with the anticipation of perhaps running for office someday," Russo said. "Now we're seeing this exciting shift of women saying, 'I'm going to run in two to three years.' It's a huge, huge shift."

Stewart, 29, has made it her mission to encourage other women to get involved in politics. But she said it's often difficult to convince women that they can balance politics with family life or that they even have the know-how for the job.

"They say, 'Oh, my gosh, Erin, I can't do that. I'm not smart enough to run for City Council,'" Stewart said. "There's just a lack of confidence that I see."

Of the state's 169 cities and towns, 37 have elected mayors and first selectmen who are female, according to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman acknowledges that she was neophyte when she first got involved in politics.

“I wanted to impeach the board of education,” Wyman recalled, adding that she later found out the board couldn’t be impeached. “I knew nothing about politics, absolutely nothing. But I was so angry about what was going on at the school board.”

Wyman served on her school board and later in the General Assembly. She then served as Connecticut’s first female state comptroller before becoming lieutenant governor in 2011. She credits other women in politics with her success in a field she hadn’t planned on pursuing.

“They brought me up and pushed me ahead when they could have pushed ahead,” Wyman said. “We need to continually help women get ahead. We have to push to make sure that they have support.”