Leading from the Left

Thursday, August 09, 2007

More Signs of Change

Lillian's List, a non-profit that works to elect pro-choice Democratic women to the North Carolina General Assembly, forwarded the following press release several weeks ago. North Carolina now has a record number of women in the legislature, and 3 more have been added since the first of the year due to death or resignation of 3 male members. These women are now at critical mass, particularly in the house, and are chairing powerful committtees and shaping the agenda. There is no doubt that having a more diverse legislature is changing how business is done in our state and, importantly which issue rise to the top of the pile.

The press release below was prepared by the NC Center for Public Policy Research, based on research they conducted.


Record numbers of women and retirees are serving in the legislature this year. Female legislators now

chair or co-chair four of the six most powerful committees in the House and two of the six most powerful

committees in the Senate, says the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research. The 2007 legislature also is on a

record pace for the number of bills introduced. And, the legislature has seen an unusual number of deaths and

resignations since last November. These are just a few of the latest trends in the legislature highlighted in the

Center’s new citizens’ guide to the legislature released today.

A Record Number of Women…

Forty-three women are serving in the 2007 N.C. General Assembly, up from 39 last session. Lillian

Exum Clement of Buncombe County was the first woman elected to the legislature in 1920, but even as late as

1971, only two legislators were women.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, North Carolina is now

18th highest among the 50 states in the percentage of women in its legislature, with 25 percent (43 out of 170

legislators). Nationally, the average is 24.5 percent women legislators, with Vermont the highest at 37.8

percent. South Carolina is lowest, with women comprising only 8.8 percent of its 170 legislators. North

Carolina now leads the South in the percentage of legislators who are women.

…And the Women in the Legislature Hold Powerful Posts

Female legislators in North Carolina are not only more numerous, they also are more powerful. Every

other year, the Center surveys all legislators, registered lobbyists, and capital news media and asks them to rank,

among other things, the most powerful legislative committees. This year, women serve as chairs or co-chairs of

four of the six most powerful committees in the state House of Representatives and two of the six most

powerful committees in the Senate. In the House, three females are among the co-chairs of the powerful

Appropriations Committee, which puts together the state budget – Representatives Alma Adams (D-Guilford),

Martha Alexander (D-Mecklenburg), and Maggie Jeffus (D-Guilford). Additionally, six of the seven House

Appropriations Subcommittees have women as co-chairs. Women also chair or co-chair other powerful House

committees, including the Finance Committee, the Judiciary I Committee, and the Commerce, Small Business

and Entrepreneurship Committee.

Rep. Melanie Wade Goodwin (D-Richmond) says, “Rep. Deborah Ross is chairing Judiciary I,

traditionally a lawyers’ committee handling high-profile policy matters. Rep. Lucy Allen is chairing

Environment, a committee that often entertains bills relating to industry’s interactions with the environment.

Rep. Margaret Dickson is chairing Commerce, Small Business and Entrepreneurship, where bills affecting more

than 90 percent of our state’s business entities are debated. And Rep. Jennifer Weiss is co-chairing Finance,

which sets tax policy for our entire state. Women clearly have a major role in shaping state policy this session.”

In the Senate, two of the three co-chairs of the powerful Appropriations/Base Budget Committee are

women – Senators Linda Garrou (D-Forsyth) and Kay Hagan (D-Guilford). The other Senate committee ranked

among the six most powerful with a female leader is the Education/Higher Education Committee, co-chaired by

Sen. Julia Boseman (D-New Hanover).

Women also serve as key party leaders. In both the House and Senate, women serve as half of the

majority or minority whips for their political parties. Party whips count votes and line up support on issues on

which the Democratic or Republican parties have taken a position.

The North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research

P.O. Box 430 Raleigh, N.C. 27602 (919) 832-2839 FAX (919) 832-2847 http://www.nccppr.org

Copies of Article II: A Guide to the 2007-2008 N.C. Legislature and the Supplement with committee

assignments are available for $25 a set, which includes tax, postage, and handling. To order, write the Center at

P.O. Box 430, Raleigh, NC 27602, call (919) 832-2839, fax (919) 832-2847, or email tbromley@nccppr.org.

* * *

For more information, contact Sam Watts, policy analyst, or Ran Coble, executive director, at the N.C.

Center for Public Policy Research at (919) 832-2839.