Time to climb that ladder

Published 4:45 am Thursday, January 25, 2007

By Staff
Taking their lead from their colleagues in the U.S. Congress, more and more women are walking the halls of the N.C. General Assembly.
That, most definitely, is a good thing. Perhaps with the presence of more women in the Legislature, the days of “good ol’ boys” politics will go the way of the dinosaurs. Now that almost one of every four seats in the General Assembly is held by a woman, maybe they can provide the pressure needed to break through the glass ceiling that remains in their way, despite women holding high leadership positions over the years.
There is a record number of women in the General Assembly this year. Forty-two of the 170 members of this year’s General Assembly were to have been sworn in this week. Two more women, one to replace Rep. Ed Jones and the other to replace the late Rep. Howard Hunter, could join the lineup of female legislators if Gov. Mike Easley approves their appointments. That would mean 36 women would be serving in the House and eight women would be serving in the Senate.
Still, this week’s likely election of Marc Basnight as president pro tempore of the N.C. Senate and Joe Hackney as House speaker means two of the top legislative positions will have never been held by women. It would be interesting to see what women would do with those positions and the power they provide the persons who hold those seats in the General Assembly.
Two women have been elected as speaker pro tempore, who presides over the House when the speaker is absent.
Cherie Berry, a former state House member and the first woman elected commissioner of labor in North Carolina, believes women can make more strides forward in the General Assembly. She also believes those steps forward will be difficult to take.
Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, who may seek the governor’s seat in 2008, knows about North Carolina women becoming a force in state politics. She was the first woman to be elected lieutenant governor in North Carolina. Perdue also believes the increase of women in the General Assembly is more about abilities than gender.
Instead of waiting for leadership opportunities to come their way, women in the General Assembly should work toward making their own opportunities. Some of those women have bucked the tradition of women focusing on issues such as children, education and health and human services. In the 2005-2006 session, half of the six original chairs of the House Appropriations Committee were women and two of the three chairs on the Senate budget-writing body were women.
In our backyard, Rep. Marian McLawhorn, a five-term member of General Assembly from Pitt County, may be able to climb up the leadership ladder this session. She’s proven herself to be a more-than-able legislator. She should be given an opportunity to prove herself a more-than-able legislative leader.
Scientists and researchers say women, when compared to men, tend to prioritize disparate types of issues differently.
That tendency could be a blessing when it comes to getting things done in the General Assembly.
It’s time to give women a shot at the top leadership positions in the General Assembly. Basnight and Hackney, the likely leaders of their respective houses in the General Assembly, should help women climb that legislative leadership ladder.
Maybe it won’t be too much longer before we hear the leader of the state House addressed as “Madam Speaker” instead of “Mister Speaker.” And perhaps the person first addressing the leader of the state house as “Madam Speaker” will be the state’s first female governor.
They would hold these offices because they are strong and effective leaders, not because of their gender.
The state needs such leaders. It’s time to give more women opportunities to provide that leadership.