By Mina Haq and Maya Pottiger
Capital News Service
After former Rep. Connie Morella was elected to the House of Representatives in 1986, four out of 10 members of the Maryland congressional delegation were women.
Today, the number of women in Maryland’s congressional delegation is down to two – and after Tuesday’s balloting, it could be zero. Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s career as the longest-serving woman in Congress is set to be followed by Maryland’s first all-male congressional delegation since 1973.
“It’s shocking,” said Morella, a Republican who represented the state’s 8th District for 16 years, about the probability of no Maryland women on Capitol Hill.
Amie Hoeber and Delegate Kathy Szeliga, both Republicans, are the only women from either major party running for Congress in Maryland.
Szeliga trails Rep. Chris Van Hollen by 30 points in the race for Mikulski’s open Senate seat, according to an October Washington Post/University of Maryland poll.
Hoeber is challenging heavily favored incumbent Democratic Rep. John Delaney for his 6th District seat.
Former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Democrat, will likely replace outgoing Rep. Donna Edwards, who lost to Van Hollen in a bitter Democratic primary this past April. She would have been Maryland’s first black woman senator.
Edwards criticized her fellow Democrats for potentially supporting an all-male delegation and ignoring women and people of color.
“It’s a proud tradition we have of a diverse representation from the Maryland congressional delegation,” Szeliga said, “and the Democrats having failed to nominate a woman to the ticket is very disappointing this year.”
While polls suggest the nation is inching closer to electing the first woman president, a state touted as a leader in women’s representation is on the cusp of taking a step backward. (Story continues below chart.)
A hundred years trek?
Almost a century after suffragettes won the right to vote, Hillary Clinton is the first woman to be a major party’s nominee for president. The 114th Congress includes 108 women, the most in the nation’s history.
But it could be another 100 years before the country sees political parity if the United States continues on its current path, according to research associate Elyse Shaw of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington-based group that studies women’s roles in public policy.
“It’s been a slow progression,” Shaw said. “It hasn’t been kind of this nice little trend where it keeps growing and it’s growing exponentially. It’s slow and steady.”
Women hold 19% of seats in Congress and 25% of seats in state legislatures nationally, according to the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University. Women comprise 32% of Maryland’s state legislature, which ranks it seventh in the country.
However, Maryland is one of 23 states that has never elected a woman governor. After November, it’s likely every member of Congress, the governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general will be men, as will be the longtime presiding officers of the Maryland Senate and House.
This isn’t unique to Maryland. Of the 12 states with gubernatorial races this fall, women are only running in two states: incumbent Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon and Vermont’s former state Rep. Sue Minter. Just six women currently serve as governors. (Story continues below chart.)
A multitude of factors contribute to the “broken pipeline” of women politicians that’s leading to this striking lack of federal representation in Maryland, Shaw said.
Women often enter local government much later in life because politics isn’t presented to them as a lifelong career, she said. According to a Baltimore Sun article, there is only one woman under 40 on a county council seat in Maryland: Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater of Frederick.
“It takes a longer period of time to progress through, to get to like a national level or even the higher state levels,” Shaw said. “It takes time, it takes money, it takes energy.”
In Maryland, 22% of county council members are women, with Baltimore City Council’s representation at 27%. Four of the state’s 11 county council seats are entirely made up of men.
Morella said there aren’t enough organizations devoted to pursuing women across party lines to run for open seats — the ones that do, she added, are focused on Democratic women.
“Where’s the groups coming for them?” she said. “Whereas the men have the old boys network. I don’t know, maybe golfing … maybe some other card-playing group or something. And so it’s like they feel automatically that this is what a man can do.”
Emerge Maryland is a program devoted to persuading Democratic women to overcome the barriers to entering politics and seek elected office. The group holds training sessions over seven months focused on fundraising, public speaking and campaign strategy.
Women need more persuading
Women typically need more persuading than men to run for public office because they feel the need to tick off every qualification before starting, said Diane Fink, Emerge Maryland’s executive director.
To Morella, that lack of confidence explains the lack of women.
“They say, ‘You know, I really need 45 Ph.D. degrees before I can do that.’ Oh, baloney. Men don’t have that problem,” Morella said.
Fink finds the probability that no women will immediately follow in Mikulski’s footsteps “troubling.”
“She has done so much to forward women from all walks of life,” Fink said. “It doesn’t matter what religion, color, socioeconomic or even political party. She’s just been such a champion.”
Sen. Catherine Pugh, the Democrat running for mayor of Baltimore, credits her parents for the lack of pressure she feels working in a male-dominated field. A dad who said, “You can be anything that you want to be,” and a mother who said, “You’ve just got to be prepared,” erased any fear.
“It’s important for young women to see women in powerful positions at every single level, whether it’s government or business or the arts,” Pugh said. “Sometimes it’s hard to see yourself if you don’t see someone like you.”
Impact of Hillary
Watching Clinton become the first woman president could motivate young women across the country to pursue politics, experts said. The intense and often negative scrutiny she’s faced during decades in public office could have the opposite effect.
“A woman says, ‘It’s not worth it, and look at the commercials I see, it’s all negative. I don’t really think I want to have that said about me and have my family see it,’” Morella said, adding that nowadays people care less about a woman’s values and more about “her hemline, her hairline, her husband.”
Fink said she has to convince recruits they won’t face the same public backlash in local government women combat on the national stage.
“It’s not the same type of horror show,” she said.
Pugh, who sees capable women leaders all over Maryland despite concerns of a shrinking bench, said Clinton’s campaign — and likely victory — will only encourage more women to consider entering politics.
“This will be history-making,” she said. “A woman breaking the ultimate glass ceiling.”
From the local ground up
For states like Maryland facing an absence of female federal representation, the solution starts at the bottom, Shaw said. Women need to be encouraged during high school and college to pursue political careers so local politicians can springboard to the national stage.
“Part of me wants to be really optimistic and be like, ‘Oh we can totally do that, there has to be qualified women who are at some level that can be pulled and moved along,’” she said. “But part of me also thinks this is a long haul.”
Encouraging women to start with school board seats or city council seats will make the difference, Shaw said. She added women typically get involved in politics over single issues rather than to jumpstart lifelong careers.
“Once we start introducing local government to women and showing them that they can make a big difference doing small things in their communities, women are about issues, women are not about power,” Fink said.
Susan Burke, a Baltimore attorney and Van Hollen supporter, said he will be a worthy replacement for Mikulski to tackle women’s issues.
“I think that the power of Senator Mikulski was the power of her courage, of her integrity, how articulate she was and I think Chris is going to pick up that mantle and run with it,” Burke said.
In Szeliga’s eyes, having no women in the state’s congressional delegation would be a step backward .
“Women bring a different perspective to the table, and lawmaking is a compilation of diverse ideas and views and perspective,” she said. “And when you don’t have that, you end up making bad laws.
Taking the hinges off the closed door
Morella said to bring those perspectives back, it’s vital to establish a welcoming climate in which women feel like they can run.
She referenced a quote from the first woman vice presidential nominee, Democrat Geraldine Ferraro, about former New York Rep. Bella Abzug, a fellow Democrat who was an outspoken women’s rights activist.
“Bella Abzug, (Ferraro) said, doesn’t believe in gently trying to open the door for women,” Morella recalled. “She doesn’t believe in knocking on the door for women. She doesn’t believe in banging on the door to open it for women. She believes in taking it off its hinges so it’ll be open forever. And I like that idea.”
CNS reporters Sarah Dean and Maggie Gottlieb contributed to this report.