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Former female political candidates reflect on milestone of all-female congressional delegation

Democratic Congresswoman-elect Annie Kuster, left, embrasses friend and supporter, Gerri King during a stop at the Windmill Family Restaurant in Concord on Wednesday afternoon, November 7, 2012, after winning the election over Republican incumbent Charlie Bass.

(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

Democratic Congresswoman-elect Annie Kuster, left, embrasses friend and supporter, Gerri King during a stop at the Windmill Family Restaurant in Concord on Wednesday afternoon, November 7, 2012, after winning the election over Republican incumbent Charlie Bass. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

To several New Hampshire women who have run for the state’s highest offices – some who failed, some who succeeded – the results of Tuesday’s election that gave New Hampshire the country’s first all-female congressional delegation marked a natural step for the state.

And although they said the candidates won because of the issues, not gender, they all said Tuesday’s results were another exciting step for women.

“It really was thrilling. It says so much, doesn’t it?” said Mary Rauh, a Democrat who ran for Congress in 1998 against the now-defeated Charlie Bass, and lost. “What it says a lot of is how the world has changed, or how the United States perhaps has changed, in the last 20 years. It’s very exciting to see, no getting around it.”

With Reps.-elect Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter joining Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte in Congress, and Maggie Hassan ascending to the governor’s office, women will hold all of the top offices in New Hampshire. It follows other milestones in recent New Hampshire history, including Shaheen’s election as the state’s first female governor in 1996 and Shea-Porter’s as the state’s first female congresswoman in 2006. In 2008, the state Senate became the first legislative body in the country with a majority of female members, and the House was also led by a woman, Terie Norelli. Hassan will be the country’s only female Democratic governor.

Like Rauh, other female trailblazers in New Hampshire politics said the newest milestone is an exciting one. But New Hampshire, they said, has long put the blinders on when it comes to gender.

“It speaks to the voters of New Hampshire and the tradition that we’ve had in this state with giving women leadership positions for many years,” Shaheen said.

Shaheen said she never made gender an issue in her first campaign for governor.

“I used to say when I was first running that I didn’t need to make an issue of the fact that I’m a woman; it was obvious,” she said.

Before Shaheen was successful, Democrat Arnie Arnesen was the state’s first female gubernatorial nominee. Although she recalled discriminatory comments during her run, she said she lost because of her issues, not her gender.

People said, “Arnie didn’t lose because she was a girl; she lost because they weren’t ready for her issues,” she said.

For Dudley Dudley, who was elected the first female on the Executive Council in 1976 and ran unsuccessfully in the 1st Congressional District in 1984, it’s refreshing to see that what was once unthinkable is now normal.

“You can’t help but think back to people like Sylvia Chaplain who ran in the ’70s for Congress and it was almost, it wasn’t taken seriously,” she said. (Chaplain unsuccessfully ran in the 1st Congressional District.)

She and others said the successful women who have held high office, chief among them Shaheen, have made the thought of a female elected official no different than that of a male. The voters of New Hampshire confirmed that Tuesday.

“It’s really a tribute to the voters that they have made decisions about who to support based on what they viewed as qualifications, experience and expertise,” Shaheen said. “Gender didn’t have a lot to do with it.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

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