By David Travis Bland
A new study gives South Carolina a “D” grade for gender equality in elected office. That poor grading comes with the Palmetto State ranking 23rd in the nation for gender parity.
“Gender parity is defined as the point at which women and men are equally likely to hold elected office in the state,” the study says.
The study was put together by Representation 2020, which is part of FairVote, a voting advocacy organization. They looked at gender parity amongst elected officials in all 50 states, giving each a score between zero and 100 with 50 meaning a state has reached gender parity in elected office.
South Carolina scored 20. Among the reasons given for the low score and grade are the fact that the Palmetto State has no women elected to Congress and that only one woman holds any of the eight statewide offices, that being Molly Spearman, superintendent of education.
“I think the mentality [is] that we should be at home raising our children; you hear those kinds of comments,” says Democratic S.C. Rep. Beth Bernstein about the results.
As the study points out, only five women have held congressional seats in the history of South Carolina, four of whom went to Washington, D.C., following the death of their husbands. In 1986, Liz Patterson, daughter of former governor and U.S. Sen. Olin D. Johnston, was the first woman elected for a South Carolina House of Representatives seat. She lost reelection in 1992.
Other reasons for South Carolina’s rank and grade include the low percentage of women in the legislature, only 14 percent, and having only two women as mayors or executives in towns of 30,000 or more people. Linda Page is mayor of Mount Pleasant, and Columbia has the only female municipal executive: Teresa Wilson, the city manager.
“We are completely underrepresented in the legislature as far as women representation,” says Bernstein, who recently met with a group to encourage more women to run for office.
All this taken together means that South Carolina is far behind when it comes to gender parity for elected officials. But so is the rest of the United States.
Next door, Georgia ranks 48th in gender parity and gets an F. Tennessee is 43rd while North Carolina comes in at 19, both states receiving a D. California ranks 6th for gender parity but still receives only a 30.2 on Representation 2020’s scale with 50 being optimal. Similarly, Arizona ranks 3rd but gets a C.
New Hampshire tops the study and gets the only A in all the U.S. as well as the only score that hits the 50 mark (55.4), much of that having to do with the state’s small size and population. The next closest state to a score of 50 is Washington, getting 43 points in the study.
At the bottom of the gender parity report is Mississippi, of course. Still, the Magnolia State inches out South Carolina in the number of women holding statewide offices, and both states have the same percentage of women in their legislatures.
“We need more women representation,” Bernstein says. “We bring a different skillset to the table. We need to focus on women’s issues. In the South Carolina legislature we’re really not focused on issues that affect women.”
The study does, however, show that the populace’s ability to elect women to office is on the rise. In Congress, women now represent 20 percent of the lawmakers — that’s up from around 10 percent in 1993. If this were 2003, South Carolina would have scored a 2.3 on Representation 2020’s 0 to 100 gender parity scale.
The report also notes that zero percent of women have been elected to the office of president.