By Susan J. Demas
In 2018, Michigan racked up national headlines for electing three women to top statewide offices: Gretchen Whitmer as governor, Dana Nessel as attorney general and Jocelyn Benson as secretary of state.
That’s one reason why the Mitten State is now the sixth-best state in the nation for women in office, according to the 2019 Gender Parity Index from the Takoma Park, Md.-based group RepresentWomen.
“Women now hold the top offices in Michigan, and I’m proud to be among such a group of extraordinary leaders,” Whitmer told the Advance. “I’m also proud to have built the most diverse cabinet and executive office staff in our state’s history, both of which are more than two thirds women. Right now, there are more women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community at the table than ever before.”
Michigan earned an overall “B” score using the metrics of women in Congress, statewide executive roles, the Legislature and local executive positions. The state was particularly buoyed by more Democratic women elected last year.
No state achieved gender parity, which is a score in the study of 50 or above on a scale of 100. The study uses data from the last three gubernatorial elections, the four most recent U.S. Senate elections, the most recent congressional legislative elections and more.
“While there were some gains for women this election cycle — especially women of color, we are still very far from gender parity in government. We need a reference point to see what strategies are working to elect more women, and this index provides that baseline,” said Cynthia Richie Terrell, RepresentWomen founder and director.
The Wolverine State earned 41.2 points of 100. That’s up from 25.9 points in 2018, when Michigan was given a “C” grade and came in 12th overall. The state earned 25.8 points in 2017 and 25.2 in 2016.
Michigan ranked highest in the statewide executive category thanks to women dominating the top four positions (only Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist is male). From 2011 to 2019, only one of the top offices was held by a female, former Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. Former Gov. Rick Snyder, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette were the other officeholders.
The study also notes that Whitmer is just the second female to hold the Michigan governor’s mansion, following in the footsteps of another Democrat, Jennifer Granholm, who served from 2003 to 2011. That helped the state earn 16.7 out of 30 points.
Women also hold five out of 14 seats in the U.S. House and all are Democrats: U.S. Reps. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, Elissa Slotkin of Holly and Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills. One of Michigan’s two U.S. senators is female, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing). The report notes she is the only female senator in Michigan history.
Michigan didn’t fare as well in the Legislature metric, earning 9.4 points out of 30. RepresentWomen notes that 36% of state lawmakers are women, up 16 points from 21% in 1994. Of those in office today, 62% are Democrats and 38% are Republicans.
For local offices, Michigan received 2.3 points out of 10. The study looked at mayors in cities with more than 30,000 people and found that nine of 37 mayors (24%) are women.
“We must continue to build a government that truly represents the great diversity of our state if we’re going to solve problems for every community,” Whitmer said. “As always, I’m ready to continue encouraging women to run for office and make their voices heard. When women lead, we create a long-lasting and positive impact here in Michigan.”
New Hampshire ranks at the top of the study with a score of 49.1. That’s followed by Washington (47.4), Maine (43.0), Nevada (42.3) and New Mexico (42.2). Utah comes in last nationally with a score of 8.2, followed by Louisiana (8.4), Montana (10.6), Arkansas (11.3), Texas (11.6) and Mississippi (11.7).
Overall, the study notes that the 117th Congress has the largest number of women serving in history — 127, up from 110. However, women only make up 25% of the U.S. Senate, 23% of the U.S. House, 18% of governorships and 29% of state legislatures.
The study concluded that “women are underrepresented at the national, state, and local level, and that parity for men and women in elected office is unlikely to occur without structural changes in recruitment, electoral and legislative rules.”