WV Statehouse Gender Gap: Women Lawmakers Declining - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

WV Statehouse Gender Gap: Women Lawmakers Declining

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The number of women lawmakers in WV is declining. The number of women lawmakers in WV is declining.
Some hope recent protests encourage more women to run for office. Some hope recent protests encourage more women to run for office.
WV: 13% female lawmakers; 3rd lowest in U.S. WV: 13% female lawmakers; 3rd lowest in U.S.

West Virginia's Legislature is noticeably different this year. The body has the fewest number of women in over three-decades. Right now there are 15 female delegates; and 3 women senators. That's down from last year. It's frustrating Republicans and Democrats alike.

"It's not a good situation because we comprise 51% of the voting in West Virginia," said former Del. Nancy Guthrie, (D) Kanawha.

"We need to get more diverse voices, and certainly that's more women," said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, (R) West Virginia.

And West Virginia is going against a national trend. Right now Congress has 19 percent women, a record high; and nationwide, state legislatures are 25 percent female, also a new record. West Virginia is at just 13 percent. So why is the Mountain State going the opposite direction? Professor Kara Fisher teaches political science at the University of Charleston.

"The number one indicator of electoral success is going to be incumbency. So women have already been fighting an uphill battle to win seats in a very traditionalistic state," said Professor Kara Fisher, University of Charleston.

Other say the state's economic downturn has added to that, meaning fewer women can run for office. Nancy Guthrie served in the House of Delegates for ten years.

"If they are single and have children, they can't afford to just uproot themselves unless their employer said, 'We need somebody in the legislature," said former Delegate Guthrie.

Despite losses on Election Day, the political upheaval since then - including womens' marches across the nation - could change the landscape down the road.

"Well I think we are dealing with millennials who are ready to think out of the box, and get energized and engaged in politics. And certainly this last election has garnered a lot of interest in our students,"  said Professor Fisher.

Longtime party leaders hope more women will step-up and run.

"You know maybe we have a downturn right now, but I think eventually, working hard, with inspiration from maybe , and others, we could get those numbers back up again," said Republican Senator Capito.

"Public service is probably one of the grandest things anybody can do for their fellow citizens," said former Democratic Delegate Guthrie.

The highest number of women in the Legislature occurred in 1990, with 29.

"The bottom line, only two other states - Wyoming and Oklahoma - have a lower percentage of women in their legislatures, compared to West Virginia," said Mark Curtis, 13 News Chief Political Reporter.

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