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 Women in Politics: New Hampshire turns Pink

by David Garlock

When I first saw the headline in the New York Times about women winning the top five elected seats in New Hampshire during the November elections, I wondered for a second if I had picked up the Onion by mistake.

Skimming the story more, my eye immediately caught a reference to New Hampshire being a ‘pinko’ state.  How could that be?   What about the reclusive and iconoclastic state’s license plates that have the state’s motto Live Free or Die stamped on them?

Fortunately, after I found my glasses, poured a cup of strong coffee from Whole Foods and read the clever lead in the Times again, I saw my eyes had lied.

“Most states are red or blue. A few are purple.  After the November election, New Hampshire turned pink,” the lead made clear.

Turned pink sounded a lot better than pinko state.

I next looked at the Washington Post, NPR and several other sites and learned New Hampshire had indeed become the first state in U.S. history to send an all-female Congressional delegation to Washington in 2012. The new female House members joined two who already held Senate seats.

Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, waxed philosophical about this political earthquake, telling NPR it “may be the biggest milestone for women in politics since Californians sent Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein to the U.S. Senate in 1992.”

New Hampshire seems to have gone even further than California, adding females who are also mothers with at least two children each. The four new members of Congress join a governor (who had also been the majority leader of the State Senate) and another as speaker of the state’s House. They will mix with a woman who is chief justice of the State Supreme Court and also served on the New Hampshire bench for more than three decades.

These office-holders are not flukes or protest-type candidates who somehow turn up in many elections.  It’s business-as-usual for New Hampshire and these politicians have extensive legal, political or managerial experience.
 

N.H. is small but not puny

Not much about the Granite State indicates a follow-the-crowd or overly-feministic view of the world.  The 5th smallest state still only ranks 41st in population but was the first of the British North American colonies to break away from Great Britain in January 1776, later becoming one of the  original 13  states.

But even as one of the smallest states in the Union, New Hampshire still ranks No. 4 IN THE WORLD in one way.  The state’s 400 congressional members make it the “fourth- largest governing body in the English-speaking world, trailing only the United States Congress, British Parliament and Indian Parliament,” the Times announced with what had to be mock gravity.

The odds are probably pretty good you could toss a $20 bill on a bar table and ask people (only after they put their smart phones away) to name the four largest governing bodies in the English-speaking world and double your money every time.

All of the newly-elected New Hampshire Congressional members   are married and three have law degrees between them, including U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte.  Called “one tough Granite Grizzly” by Sarah Palin from that other ‘outlier’ state, Ayotte has already argued a case  in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and been mentioned as a vice presidential candidate.

Ayotte’s new Senate colleague Jeanne Shaheen makes the New Hampshire duo the only ‘split-party’ women to represent a state in the U.S. Senate.  Being a trendsetter is not new to Shaheen either: she is the first woman ever elected as both a governor and a senator.

The third law school graduate, new House member Ann Kuster, worked for years as an adoption attorney and was involved in more than 300 adoptions. She followed her mother into the New Hampshire state senate.  The two them wrote a book about Alzheimer’s disease before her mom died.

The other new House member, Carol Shea- Porter, was the first  woman elected to national office from New Hampshire.

The new governor, Maggie Hassan, was majority leader in the State Senate, where she served as the assistant whip, president pro tempore, and majority leader during her six years in office.

Hassan will be the nation's only female Democratic governor after 2012.

New Hampshire may only the 5th largest state in the Union, but it’s hard to think of any other one with as many women not only in positions of power --- but running everything!

 
 
 
 

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