Kunin: Women and regional politics

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(HOST) To put a new spin on an old saying, commentator Madeleine Kunin observes that "all politics is regional".  

(KUNIN)  One of the benefits of writing a book is that it is a ticket to travel to different parts of the country. I recently spoke about my book on women in politics on Nantucket, in El Paso, Texas, Chicago, Illinois, and Greenville, South Carolina.

At the Nantucket athenaeum, I spoke from the same podium that Frederick Douglas, the abolitionist and women’s suffragist, and Lucretia Mott, also a suffragist, had once spoken. It was a largely liberal, sympathetic audience.

When I spoke at Furman University in South Carolina, I knew that neither Douglas nor Mott would have been permitted to speak here. I had been invited by former Secretary of Education Richard Riley, who gave me a warm reception.

But nothing could hide the fact that politics in South Carolina is dramatically different from the northeast. This is not only the state that produced Joe"You Lie"  Wilson, but also Governor Mark Sanford, who refuses to resign after a scandal with an Argentenian woman, followed by a tearful public confession.

It is a tough state for women in politics. South Carolina is at the bottom "50th" of all the states in the percentage of women in the legislature. There are no women in the state Senate, in contrast to New Hampshire, which has a majority of women in their Senate.

I didn’t want to sound like an uppity northerner, so I listened as much as I talked. I left with one message – sometimes women get elected to be the clean up crew after a period of dirty politics. The very qualities that make it harder for them to get elected – not being part of the good old boys network, gives them the advantage of having fresh – and yes, clean – faces. They are working on it, recruiting and training women to run for office. Surprisingly, the traditional role of the southern woman still impedes them, as does the church. Women are not expected to be leaders.

El Paso, Texas is totally different. It sits smack against the Mexican border fence, which the locals hate. The terrain was the color of sand, a fitting background for the huge Mexican flag waving in the air. Texas, in contrast to South Carolina, had produced Governor Ann Richards, Sarah Weddington, who argued Roe V. Wade, and Molly Ivins, the funny, liberal columnist.

My audience was 250 women from Leadership Texas and the Texas women’s forum. They were raring to take on the world. I saw heads nodding and smiling as I shared my message about the importance of women’s participation in politics.

In Chicago I spoke to the National Council of Jewish Women, a social service group which provides funding and volunteer work for many non profits.

The question to them was, would any of them take the next step and jump into the fray?

A diverse country, but a unified message – women can and must make a difference.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Madeleine Kunin on line at VPR-dot-net.

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