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The State of Women in Virginia Politics

(July 28, 2014) As a sometimes guest host on the cable show Inside Scoop Virginia, I am given free rein to choose both my guests and the topic of the show. This is the second show I have done in the past year on the subject of women in Virginia politics.

My guest for this show was Stephanie Dix Clifford, a Democratic activist and former candidate for the House of Delegates from Arlington. That’s one of many things we have in common: being former political candidates who were unsuccessful in our first ever campaigns for public office.

There is no shortage of opinions on why we don’t have more women in public office. The fact remains that here in Virginia we have made no substantive gains in women representing us in state and federal offices. There has been only one woman who ever served in a statewide office: Mary Sue Terry who was elected as Attorney General in 1989. Her subsequent run for Governor was unsuccessful.

We’ve had three women serve in the US House of Representatives in our Commonwealth’s history, and currently all 11 Congressional seats are filled by men. Our US Senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine , round out the top statewide offices that include Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring. We’ve never had a woman US Senator represent Virginia.

In 2013, the Democratic Party had 24 women running for seats in the 100 seat House of Delegates. The 12 incumbents won re-election and the 12 challengers all lost. Currently the Virginia House of Delegates is 17% women which includes women elected from both parties.

There is no shortage of women voters, or women who volunteer in every capacity imaginable in getting candidates elected to office. We have women running in both primaries and in general elections – with very weak results. We need to assess why we are unable to make inroads in electing women to office.

My interview with Stephanie Clifford covers a lot of possible reasons – the cause and the possible solutions. There are many more facets of this subject that we simply did not have time to discuss. It’s a conversation more people need to have if we truly want a representative form of government that reflects the people it serves. Women bring a lot to the table in whatever we do. Our absence from the White House to legislative chambers around the country is an issue more people need to care about resolving.

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