For Kentucky Public Radio
Published SUN NOVEMBER 2, 2014
By RAE HODGE
Six of Kentucky’s 38 state senators are women. The ratio is only slightly higher in the House, where women hold 19 of the 100 seats.
And it’s possible that after Election Day, the number of women in the Kentucky Legislature will drop even further.
As her first and only term in the Senate comes to a close, Republican Sara Beth Gregory talked about the widening gender gap that looms over the chamber in the coming election. It’s an issue that Gregory and others are keeping an eye on.
“Any time you start losing the diversity of perspective it creates a problem,” Gregory said. “And not that the men aren’t sensitive—or trying to be sensitive–to some of the issues.
“But I think particularly when you talk about issues like domestic violence and issues of the nature, it’s valuable to have some women there to at least have a little different perspective on those issues.”
Nationally, Kentucky has a relatively low percentage of women in the legislature, ranking 37th for its rate of female politicians, according to an analysis by the National Conference on State Legislatures.
Colorado leads in country in gender diversity, with women representing 41 percent of its Legislature. Vermont is a close second.
Meanwhile, Louisiana is at the bottom of the list, with women pols at 12.5 percent of the Legislature. Kentucky’s legislative body is about 18 percent female.
Even fewer female politicians have leadership positions. With the resignation of Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, a Southgate Republican, there are no women slated for leadership spots next year in the Senate.
Gregory said she believes there are unfair expectations placed on female candidates.
“There’s also a sense among some people of wonderment at why are you focused on your career and why are you not out starting a family,” she said.
Emerge Kentucky is a nonprofit organization that recruits, trains and promotes Democratic women for elected office.
The group is currently supporting 27 women in Kentucky, said Board Chair Jennifer Moore. Eighteen of those candidates are running for the first-time.
Gregory, the outgoing senator, emphasized that recruitment efforts are key to a more diverse Legislature. She said that a larger push from Republican leadership statewide was necessary to see change, noting that women often do better in open seat elections than men.
Gregory said some change is happening in Frankfort. She points to the actions taken against former Democratic state Rep. John Arnold after he was accused of sexual harassment by staff members.
The Eagleton Institute on Politics has a full list here of women running for state offices.