Friday, Oct. 31, 2008 | 2 a.m.
On Tuesday, Nevada — famous for its legal prostitution and leggy showgirls — could make history by being the first state to send only women to the U.S. House of Representatives.
“We don’t see this kind of sweep in candidates very often,” Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics, said, noting that women on are the ballot for each of Nevada’s three congressional seats. “You have to be in it to win it. It’s important to see more women running for office.”
All seats, though, are not created equal. Barbara Palmer, interim director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University, and Dennis Simon, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, found that women are successful in districts that are more educated, more urban, more diverse and have a $3,500 higher median income than others.
Based on those criteria, Nevada’s 1st District, where Democrat Shelly Berkeley expects easy reelection, and the 3rd District, where Democratic state Sen. Dina Titus wants to unseat incumbent Jon Porter, are relatively female-friendly. The model doesn’t bode well, though, for Democrat Jill Derby, who is running against incumbent Dean Heller in the 2nd District. The 2nd district is one of the nation’s 130 districts that was found to be unreceptive to a female candidate. It’s slighter better for a Republican woman.
None of Nevada’s districts is rated as highly likely to elect a woman — most of those districts are in California and New York — but women in this state do seem to have political ambition.
This is the fourth time in Nevada’s history that women have competed in each of the House races (and the first since a third district was added). Our attorney general, state treasurer, state comptroller and assembly speaker are women. We rank 13th in the nation for percentage of women in the state legislature. (From 1995 to 2006 we were in the top 10, as high as No. 2 at one point.)
The previous two-term mayor of Las Vegas was a woman (Jan Jones), and have you noticed all the female judges?
There certainly seems to be something about Nevada ...
First, we’re a frontier state, and we haven’t lost our pioneer spirit. Settling the West demanded that everybody work together. By necessity women couldn’t be dismissed as the gentler, mostly incompetent sex if the community was to survive. Without laws and society strongly established, the West designed its own set of cultural mores. This state grew up with women integrated into the decision making. As a result, UNLV history professor Joanne Goodwin said, Nevada has a long history of female powerhouses, going back to Anne Martin, a national leader in the suffrage movement. (Nevada gave women the right to vote in 1914, six years before the 19th Amendment was ratified).
Fast-forward to today: Hilarie Grey, who worked on Dina Titus’ gubernatorial campaign and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, noticed on the campaign trail that Nevadans care less about gender than whether the candidate knows her stuff. All isn’t rosy — Jones, Titus and others could tell you stories — but, Grey said, Nevada’s independent attitude gives women a boost they might not get elsewhere: This state values a fighter and enjoys rooting for the underdog.
No matter what happens on Election Day, gender parity in Washington is probably a long way off. At the current rate of women being elected — a whopping two per election cycle — we won’t have as many women as men in the House until 2156.
Here’s to my great, great, great, great granddaughters.