Sunday, November 22, 2009

Women working to win the West and our role in the Republican realm

A few weeks ago, I was afforded the opportunity to speak at the Colorado Federation of Republican Women (CFRW) annual conference and presented a welcome address to several hundred attendees. I believed it was important to welcome them to El Paso County and to also emphasize the role Republican women have played in Colorado politics.  (Photo right: 2009 CFRW convention in Colorado Springs)

First, I never expected nearly ten years ago when I became involved in a local neighborhood fight to save a fire station, that I’d be standing before a group of distinguished ladies as a past city councilwoman and the vice chair of the El Paso County Commissioners. Our county of El Paso was formed in 1861 and in all those years, only five women have served on the Board of Commissioners in almost 150 years. As the third woman to have been elected as chair of the board (serving in 2006), I join the ranks of previous board chairs including Jeri Howells (now Mayor of Fountain) and Marcy Morrison (Colorado's current Insurance Commissioner, and past state representative and mayor of Manitou Springs). I’m honored to follow in the footsteps of other local women like these, in order to serve El Paso County government and to pave the way for others to follow.  Today, I now serve with Commissioner Amy Lathen, who was first appointed to a vacant seat and then elected in 2008 as the fifth woman to serve on the El Paso County Board of Commissioners.

Colorado has a rich history and has been a front-runner in placing women into elected office.  In 1929, the first woman city council member, Edith C. Bramhall, was elected to the Colorado Springs City Council, just nine years after the 19th amendment was ratified to allow us women the right to vote.

Women gained the right to vote in Colorado through a Constitutional amendment passed by the people of Colorado during a general election on Nov. 7, 1893. This is 27 years before women had the right to vote nationally. The rallying cry of, “Let the women vote! They can’t do any worse than the men have!” was heard from Denver to Durango by disgruntled unemployed male voters: miners, farmers, ranchers, factory workers and businessmen, who were unhappy with the current government policies. 
Colorado also became the first state in the union to approve women’s suffrage in a popular election and amazingly, Colorado women voted and ran for office a quarter century before the 19th Amendment made women's suffrage the law of the land in 1920.

Some general historical notes:

El Paso was one of the original 17 counties in the state of Colorado, being #6 with the county seat in Colorado City.  There are currently over 50 elected women county commissioners in the state of Colorado with approximately half of those being elected as Republicans.

According to the National Association of Republican Women, in the 2009 Congress, 93 of the 535 seats in Congress are held by women. Of these, 17 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate (four Republicans) and 76 of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives (17 Republicans) are held by women legislators.

In the 2009 Colorado State Legislature, 39 women currently serve. Among these women, nine are Republicans. Lola Spradley was the first female speaker of the House.  Worth noting is that Colorado was the first state to elect women to a state legislature. Three Republican women were elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1894 and took office in 1895. Surprisingly, this was prior to the statewide allowance for women having the right to vote in the state. They were elected prior to being able to vote for themselves!

At a recent women's leadership conference held in Denver and hosted by the Republican National Committee, the theme was "Women Winning the West",  stressing the significance of women in government leadership and mentoring for others.  This conference focused on the importance of women to step forward and assume policy-making roles in our government, including running for office or supporting others who seek elected positions. It takes a lot to step forward, just ask women like Sarah Palin, Laura Bush, Jane Norton, and others who have put themselves into the political limelight. And while our male counterparts certainly live in a fishbowl of sorts, it's no secret that the focus on women in politics can frequently take a more personal turn, including the scrutiny of appearance and family relationships, among others.  (Photo right: 2009 CFRW annual convention, Colorado Springs)

That being said, I'm pleased to note that in Colorado, our state has been at the forefront of women in politics.  And, here are just some of groundbreaking women accomplishments that I presented at the CFRW conference:

1894: Statewide - On November 6, the first three women ever elected to a state legislature in the United States were elected to the Colorado General Assembly. They were Clara Cressingham, R-Arapahoe County; Carrie Holly, R-Pueblo County; and Frances Klock, R-Arapahoe County.

1924: Bertha K. Landes, Republican city council president at the time, became acting mayor of Seattle, the first woman to lead a major American city. Two years later she was elected mayor in her own right in a campaign run by women.

1933: Minnie Davenport Craig (R-ND) became the first woman to hold the position of speaker of the House in a state legislature.

1955: Consuelo Bailey, a Vermont Republican, became the first woman ever elected lieutenant governor of a state. In that role, she served as president of the state Senate. Since, she had previously served as speaker of the state House of Representatives, thus becoming the only woman in the country ever to preside over both chambers of a state legislature.

1964: Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a Maine Republican, was nominated for the presidency by Vermont Senator George Aiken at the Republican national convention. Smith had campaigned briefly for the post, limiting herself to periods when the Senate was not in session. Elected to the House of Representatives in 1940 (to replace her dying husband) and the Senate in 1948, Smith had already made history by becoming the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress.

1978: Nancy Landon Kassebaum, a Kansas Republican, was elected to the United States Senate. Prior to her election, all of the women who served in the Senate had succeeded their husbands in Congress or had first been appointed to fill out unexpired terms.

1984: Congresswoman Lynn Morley Martin (R-IL) was elected to the first of two terms as vice chair of the Republican Conference in the House, the first time a woman held an elected position in the congressional party's hierarchy.

1987: Kay Orr, a Republican from Nebraska, was the first Republican woman elected governor of a state, as well as the first woman to defeat another woman in a gubernatorial race.

1987: Jan Faiks, a Republican from Alaska, became the first woman to hold the position of president of a state senate (1987-1988).

2001: Condoleezza Rice became the first woman to hold the post of National Security Advisor (formally known as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs) when she was appointed by President George W. Bush.

2001: Elaine Chao became the first Asian-American woman to serve in a presidential cabinet when she was appointed Secretary of Labor by President George W.Bush.

2001: Colorado's own Gale Norton became the first woman to serve as Secretary of the Interior, appointed by President George W. Bush. Norton was the first woman elected as Colorado's Attorney General and served that position for two terms.  

2001: Ann Veneman was appointed by President George W. Bush to be the first female Secretary of Agriculture. She had previously been the first woman to serve as Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

2007: Dana Marie Perino (born May 9, 1972) served as the White House Press Secretary for President George W. Bush from September 14, 2007 to January 20, 2009. She was the second female White House Press Secretary. Among her positions, she worked for U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, now a candidate for Governor of Colorado.
(Photo from right: Sallie Clark, Marla Crane, Dana Perino, Cami Grebel-Bremer, Alissa Bohall, Clarissa Arellano at Women Winning the West conference sponsored by the RNC)

These are just a few examples of groundbreaking events for women in politics. And ladies, while we have a long way to go, we are on the road to playing major political leadership roles in our communities. From school boards to city councils, county commissions to the state legislature, in the U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate, or by serving on other community boards and commissions, the path to leadership has been paved for us by women who have come before.  As we head into the 2010 election season, new opportunities exist for women to work with, participate and collaborate with our male counterparts to accomplish great things as a team effort.

(Photo from right: Arapahoe County Commissioner Susan Beckman, Colorado Rep. Marsha Looper, RNC Chairman Michael Steele, El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark at Women Winning the West Conference sponsored by the RNC)

Whether your interest is directed toward serving in political office or getting involved in your community, El Paso County is committed to citizen involvement. For more information about serving on a board or commission, visit our El Paso County website and click on Volunteer Boards.

Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the U.S. to become a physician, appropriately stated, “For what is done or learned by one class of women becomes, by virtue of their common womanhood, the property of all women.”