It was a small news item and it escaped public notice which is a shame because it speaks volumns about the fundamental basic intelligence of America’s body politic.
The item was a report on Maine Senator Susan Collins’ return home for the August recess following her vote against repeal of the “ObamaCare” health plan without anything to replace it. As she deplaned the commercial airliner she had flown into Bangor, Maine, there was a good sized crowd stacked up waiting to board the plane.
Almost instantly, Collins was recognized and as she walked into the terminal and down a causeway spontaneously every one stood and applauded the Senator as an expression of appreciation for her courage. For any political officeholder it doesn’t get better than that.
Senator Collins along with Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski, who also cast a courageous no vote, are just two of the women reshaping the Senate and their respective political parties. On both sides of the aisle women are showing men what leadership is about.
Most people are familiar with old cliches like “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Such condescending statements reflect shallow thinking about a woman’s influence being exercised behind the scenes. It may have had some validity 70 years ago but it sure as heck isn’t true today.
It is safe to say that the future of the Democratic party, as well as the Republican, rests in the hands of the increasingly talented pool of women governors, congressional representatives and senators. In the not too distant future one may see a woman as the presidential candidate of each party.
Idaho holds a unique place in American political history as the first state in the nation where each party’s standard bearer in a race for a congressional seat was a female. The year was 1956. The incumbent in the First Congressional District was Gracie Pfost, a Democrat and a former Canyon County official. The challenger was Louise Shadduck, a former journalist, the state’s first female chief of staff for a governor, and the first head of a cabinet agency, the Department of Commerce and Economic Development.
Despite Dwight D. Eisenhower winning a second term easily, he proved not to have any coattails in Idaho. Shadduck lost, but many pegged her to become Idaho’s first female governor or U.S. senator. However, while remaining politically active she never sought office again. The glass ceiling for those two offices remains unbroken.
It is almost too obvious to say that the future of both political parties is tied to which one does the best job of addressing issues the woman voter determines to be most important. Their agenda is more practical and less ideological.
According to many national polls, women voters care most about economic issues and health care matters. Regardless of party, women voters strongly support “equal pay for equal work.” Access to affordable health care is another critical issue which more and more is seen as a fundamental right, not a function of privilege and income, and access to higher education without incurring crippling debt brought on by too easily obtained stuent loans.
Women are more attuned than men to the homeless issue, the opiod crisis, and the lack of enforcement of laws against spousal abuse and child abuse.
Each party caucus in the Senate has some outstanding veteran female legislators as well as some rising stars who bear watching. On the Democratic side Caucus chair Patty Murray from the state of Washington is a classic “work horse” who gets things done. Noted for her common sense, excellent staff, and an ability to work across the aisle, she could emerge as a future majority leader.
Many thought with the retirement of Nevada Senator Harry Reid, Murray might challenge New York Senator Charles Schumer for the minority leader post. Murray, however, recognized that minority leader was a thankless job with little upside and wisely took a minor position while biding her time. She enjoys broad support among all the female senators and counts Senator Murkowski as a real friend.
Murray incidentally has constantly ben underestimated over the years. She holds the Sente record for having defeated the most members of the House in her re-elections—having defeated five.
Looking down the road it is easy to see that the rising stars in both parties, and the key to whether they can expand their base by attracting more of their gender, rests in the hands of new, young and energetic senators like California’s Kamela Harris on the Democratic side and Joni Ernst on the Republican side. Keep your eye on them.