By My Central Jersey
January 3, 2010
For the first time ever, New Jersey finds itself among the top 10 states for representation of women in its state
Legislature.That trend indicates real opportunities for women in accessing levers of power.
It's a trend that should also be fostered and encouraged.To put it simply, democracies are strongest when those in
public office reflect the diversity of their populations.That includes gender as well as race. Just five short years ago, New
Jersey was ranked 43rd in the United States in terms of female representation in its state Legislature. Since then, seven
assemblywomen and two female senators were elected to bring the total to 38 among the state's 120 lawmakers.
In addition, when the New Jersey Legislature convenes in January, women will hold top leadership positions in
both the Senate and Assembly. Sen. Barbara Buono will be the state's first female Senate Majority Leader.
Assemblywoman Sheila Y. Oliver will become Speaker. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at
Rutgers University, New Jersey will be one of only a handful of states where women serve in top legislative posts.
The center compiled a report laying out the general differences between women and men when it comes to
policymaking. By and large, the report found that women politicians tend to be less hawkish, with greater
egalitarian concerns than male politicians. Women politicians are also generally considered more trustworthy
than their male counterparts and tend to have stronger ties to the communities they represent.
Obviously, women are not automatically better candidates than men for public office simply because they are
women. And there's no guarantee that just because a politician is female, she will hold more liberal views than a
male politician. (Remember Margaret Thatcher?)
But the center's study does show that the presence of women in state legislatures makes a significant difference
in the extent to which legislators of both genders consider how laws affect women, racial and ethnic minorities,
and the economically disadvantaged. Women state legislators of both parties are also more likely than male legislators of
either party to work on legislation specifically intended to benefit women.In general, different priorities between male and
female state representatives creates the potential for a more comprehensive approach to lawmaking — one that
addresses a greater range of societal needs to serve the greater good.
New Jersey's political infrastructure bestows great power on its county chairs who provide both money and
leadership in deciding who will run for legislative office. At the moment, only four of the state's 42 county seats
are held by women. In addition, there are still great gains to be made by women at the national level where none
of New Jersey's 13 seats in the U.S. Congress nor the two seats in the U.S. Senate are held by women. There
has never been a female U.S. Senator from New Jersey and Christine Todd Whitman was the only woman
governor. In total, only five women from New Jersey have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives
from the New Jersey.
Still, the recent gains in greater female representatives in Trenton are encouraging. While any election should
ideally go to the best candidate regardless of gender, in the traditional, masculine institution known as politics,
women policymakers have been shown to generally work toward creating more just and equitable societies.
New Jersey would do well to encourage its own young women to bring their talents to public office — possibly
through programs that reach out to high school-age girls who are thinking about civic involvement.