Inside the Capitol

Thursday, April 05, 2012

4-9 Women in NM Politics

40912 Women
SANTA FE – In our continuing coverage of New Mexico's centennial year, we focus today on women in New Mexico politics.
For the first 10 years of statehood, New Mexico had no women in politics. During that period we were the only state west of the Mississippi not to allow women to vote except for education officials. But with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, that changed and women began making up for lost time.
In 1922, two women were elected to statewide office and one to the state House of Representatives. In addition, Adelina "Nina" Otero Warren won the Republican nomination to Congress but was defeated in the general election.
Soledad Chavez de Chacon was elected secretary of state in 1922. She was the nation's first woman to hold this high public office, which is second in the line of succession to the governor. In 1924, Gov. Jim Hinkle decided to attend the Republican National Convention. The lieutenant governor unexpectedly died before Hinkle departed.
That meant Chacon would be governor for two weeks. A major battle erupted over whether a woman could handle the job. Chacon martialed her forces and prevailed. Nearly 90 years later, when Susana Martinez became the state's first woman governor, a few people with good memories, contended that Martinez is only second.
Also in 1922, Elizabeth Echols was elected state Superintendent of Public Instruction. That office became appointive many years later. And in 1922, Bertha Paxton was elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives.
Otero Warren had lost her attempt at Congress in 1922, but Georgia Lusk won a brutal seven-way Democratic primary in 1946 to go to the U.S. House for one term. Lusk also was elected state school superintendent on multiple occasions.
It wasn't until 1998 that Heather Wilson became New Mexico's second woman in the U.S. House. She was elected four more times before vacating her seat to run for the U.S. Senate. She lost that one but is making another attempt this year. If successful, she will be New Mexico's first woman U.S. senator.
In 1928, Louise Coe became New Mexico's first state senator. By the time she left to unsuccessfully run for Congress in 1940, she had served six years as Senate president pro tem, a post that no other woman has held since.
Patricia Madrid became the first and only female attorney general in 1999. Diane Denish became the first female lieutenant governor in 2002. Both Madrid and Denish have been powers in the Democratic Party for many years and had previously secured their party's nominations for top offices.
No woman has ever been elected state auditor, treasurer or land commissioner. No woman was ever elected to the state Corporation Commission while it existed. Two women – Linda Lovejoy and E. Shirley Baca -- have been elected to the Public Regulation Commission since it was created as five districts in the 1990s.
When Susana Martinez and Diane Denish ran against each other in 2010, they were the first women ever nominated by their parties for the office of governor.
New Mexico does not have an outstanding record for nominating or electing women to public office. Most of the states west of the Mississippi have much better records. It is a tribute to the strength of those who did succeed. In the 1990s, the top five state officials in Arizona were women. Four of them were Republicans. Attorney General Janet Napolitano was the lone Democrat.
Maybe it is because New Mexico has such a long history that it is more bound by tradition. We can only hope that having women nominated for governor by both of their parties is a sign of some changed thinking.
Tradition also may explain why all our secretaries of state since 1922 have been women. That is not particularly common. A few men have run in party primaries but none have done well.


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