By Cynthia Richie Terrell on October 03, 2015
The state still needs better representation, some lawmakers say.
Hawaii elects women to the U.S. House of Representatives at the highest rate of any state in the nation, and ranks seventh highest overall for the percentage of elected offices that are held by women, according to a new ranking by the organization Representation2020.
The group gave Hawaii a “gender parity score” of 30.2 out of a possible 100 points, which was a significant improvement from 1993 when the state’s score was 8.9. A score of 50 points means a state has reached gender parity, something only New Hampshire managed to achieve, according to the study.
Hawaii’s exceptional record of electing women to the U.S. House was partially offset in the rankings by the state’s record in other areas, including the fact that the state currently has no female mayors and has elected only one woman as governor.
Two-term U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, both Democrats, now account for half of Hawaii’s four-member congressional delegation. Hirono is in her first term and is the first woman from Hawaii to be elected to the U.S. Senate.
In the state Legislature, eight members of the 25-member Senate and 14 members of the 51-member House are women.
Hirono recalled that when she first ran for office in 1980, there were only 10 women in the state House, and “we seem to kind of hit a ceiling at around 20 percent of state bodies,” she said.
“I believe that women run really strong, focused campaigns because that’s what we have to do,” Hirono said. “We usually are much better prepared when we run for office, and for women, generally we run for office to get things done. I think women are problem solvers.”
State House Minority Leader Beth Fukumoto Chang said Hawaii voters are quite receptive to female candidates. However, she maintains that while many men are willing to offer themselves up for public office, “women generally need to be asked.”
“Women are over 50 percent of the population, and we should have much better representation in government than we have now; and the best way to do that is for us to make a conscious effort to actually recruit women to run for office,” said Fukumoto Chang (R, Mililani-Mililani MaukaWaipio Acres). “If you asked most women who are in office right now what made them decide to run for office, it was usually somebody asked them.”
Amy Agbayani, a prominent and politically active Hawaii Democrat, said in an email that Hawaii history has been populated by powerful, popular women who serve as community role models, from Queen Liliuokalani to the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink.
The state’s mix of ethnicities and its labor history helped because of the important roles women played in coalition building among minorities to achieve political goals, said Agbayani, who is a member of the Patsy T. Mink Political Action Committee to help elect female Democrats who support abortion rights.
Agbayani noted that women elected to office in Hawaii are also placed in leadership roles within the political system, including former state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke and Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Jill Tokuda.
That said, “we need more women in elected and appointed positions,” Agbayani said. “We need to do more to get parity. We are not satisfied.”
Nationally the median gender parity score for states in 2015 is 18.1, up slightly from the 2014 score of 15.8, according to the report.
Representation2020 works to raise awareness of the underrepresentation of women in elected office and is a project of the nonprofit organization FairVote. It is named for the year 2020, which is the centennial of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote.
To view the report visit representation2020.com/ 2015-2016-report.html.