Inside the Capitol

Thursday, August 09, 2007

8-13 Inside Politics With Lt. Gov. Denish


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Lt. Gov. Diane Denish will be teaching a course on women in politics next semester at New Mexico State University. It's appropriate; it's needed and there's no better time to be doing it.

      Actually, it has been needed for decades, but it wouldn't have been thought appropriate back then.

   Ironically, there was much interest in getting women involved in politics 90 years ago. New Mexico's fourth governor, Octaviano Larrazolo, was a strong supporter of women's suffrage.

   Larrazolo proposed a constitutional amendment to the 1919 Legislature giving women the right to vote. He was a Republican and so were both houses of the Legislature.

   But because amending the elective franchise of our state constitution requires large supermajorities, the proposal to put the amendment on the ballot failed narrowly.

   Larrazolo was the only governor in our state's early years to be interested in getting women into politics. Interestingly, he was the last Hispanic to be elected governor for the next 55 years.

   In 1920 a federal amendment was passed, giving women the right to vote. The following year, New Mexico passed an amendment giving women the right to run for office and the race was on for women in politics.

   In 1922, Bertha Paxton of Dona Ana County was elected to the Legislature. Before the decade was over, 10 more women joined her. The 1930s saw 18 women elected to the Legislature, followed by 17 women in the 1940s.

   It appeared women were well on their way to attaining equal political status. But in the 1950s, only nine women were elected to the Legislature. In the 1960s, that number dropped to five. Those were mostly wives of legislators who died in office, and most of them failed to win reelection.

   Much valuable ground was lost during this period. Finally, in the 1970s, women lawmakers bounced back into the double digits and by the '80s, women were up to 28 legislators  and were back on their way to at least partial equality.

   Today 33 women serve in the 112-member Legislature. Seven of them hold leadership positions, including Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who presides over the Senate. Women also hold the offices of secretary of state and U.S. Representative. In addition, Lt. Gov. Denish is a leading contender for governor in 2010.

   On the national level, Rep. Nancy Pelosi is the first female speaker of the House of Representatives and Sen. Hillary Clinton is the leading contender for president at this point.

   It takes awhile for women to move up in seniority and assume leadership posts, although some of the trail blazers came years ago. Sen. In the late 1930s, Louise Coe of Lincoln County was the first and only female Senate president pro tem . And in 1947-48, Georgia Lusk of Eddy County, was New Mexico's first female member of Congress.

   Undeniably, women are now on the move in politics and this is a great time for NMSU to recognize the fact with a class aimed at providing an insider's view of politics. Although the focus will be on women, the class is not limited to women.

   Issues to be discussed also will pertain to men. Enrollment will be open to graduate and undergraduate students and at last word, spaces still are available.

   The class will be co-taught by Mary Benanti, a former political reporter in Washington, D.C. during parts of the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations.

   No one could be happier than this columnist to see women moving toward political equality. For the past 20 years, Inside the Capitol has encouraged and chronicled the advance of women in politics.

   It is appropriate at this point to recognize Dr. Dan Chavez, a retired professor from the University of New Mexico, who has long researched and recorded the political history of New Mexico since statehood. Dr. Chavez has been particularly enthusiastic about recording the march of women in politics.

   His extensive research also appears in New Mexico Blue Books.

MON, 8-13-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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