Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Electing Women in Massachusetts

Scot Lehigh has a column in today's Globe that's half on the commonwealth's poor record electing women to high offices and half on the Fifth District congressional race to replace Marty Meehan (D-Lowell). The first part of the piece is fair, though I think Lehigh overstates how much more advanced our neighbors in New England are at electing women. For example, there are now only two women from the entire region in the US House of Representatives out of twenty-two total (9%). The US Senate fairs better, but the total is still two women out of twelve (17%). It's clear that Massachusetts is not the only state where women have trouble getting elected.

I think more than the obvious charge of Massachusetts sexism that Lehigh carefully avoids levying the reason for the absence of women in the Massachusetts delegation is the low-turnover of the seats. The average Massachusetts congressman was elected nearly 16 years ago. If you add in the two Senators, it becomes just under 19 years ago, thanks to the long-serving Ted Kennedy. Massachusetts doesn't elect women, in part because it doesn't elect anybody other than the incumbent very often.

Also, there's one minor factual error in the column. Early on, Lehigh notes the following:

The same question can nag when in Maine, which shares with California and Oregon the distinction of having two women as its US senators.
I think Senators Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith of Oregon will be surprised to read that they are women. I think Lehigh has gotten his Pacific Northwest states confused. It's Washington that has two women senators -- Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

As far as Lehigh's discussion of the fifth district race, I think he's accurately captured the conventional wisdom, mainly that Niki Tsongas is the frontrunner. I personally have not seen any empirical evidence proving to me that this is the case, but neither have I seen any reason to disbelieve it. One point that Lehigh does omit in his discussion of Tsongas and rival candidate Eileen Donoghue is the possibility that two women from the same part of the district, namely Lowell, could split the vote and allow one of the other candidates to win. This does not seem like an unlikely scenario, particularly given the crowded field.