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Surge of women shifts political makeup

Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013

Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 00:01

Elyse Wudeck

Top Left to Right and Down: U.S. Senators Mazie Hirono, Kristen Gillibrand, Debbie Stabenow, Dianne Feinstein, Mary Landrieu, Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray, Deb Fischer, Kay Hagan, Amy Klobuchar, Mary ‘Heidi’ Kathryn Heitkamp, Lisa Murkowski, Maria Cantwell, Tammy Baldwin, Kelly Ayotte, Susan Collins, Barbara Mikulski, Elizabeth Warren, Claire McCaskill, Jeanne Shaheen.

Women, an infamously underrepresented minority in the world of politics, saw a historical increase in representation in our nation’s capitol this last election season.

With a record-breaking 20 women in the U.S. Senate and 101 females in the U.S. House of Representatives elected to the two chambers of the 113th U.S. Congress, citizens and politically inclined students are discussing how policies could see a stronger female influence.

The divide of partisan power in Congress remains relatively similar: a Republican majority in the House and a Democrat majority in the Senate. However, bipartisanship may be gaining momentum around certain political initiatives, a trend which some believe will be assisted by the new female representatives.

Shelbi Sturgess, 2012-2013 A&M’s Student Government Association Executive Council chief of staff and senior political science major, said the increase of women in Congress will help policymakers reach “across the aisles” and become more diplomatic in discussion.

“Women will be more likely to bridge the gap as far as bipartisanship goes,” she said.

On the other hand, political science graduate student Grant Ferguson said he believes trends of partisanship will remain the same.

“Regardless of whether they are men or women, the best guide to how legislators are going to vote will be their party ideology,” he said.

Overall, Ferguson said, the fact that a significant number of the elected women are Democrats will help bolster the strength of the Democratic caucus in the Senate. Other than that, Ferguson believes we’re not likely to see many other effects.

“They'll probably help shape legislation,” he said. “Maybe some of these new women will rise to positions of leadership in both the House and Senate — but until we see one of them assigned to a very senior leadership position, it will be difficult to tell.”

Holly Scott, vice president of student services and junior political science major, said she thinks the increase of women in public office will bring a different perspective to law making.

“While I've never been one to believe that politics is gender-specific, there are certain areas that women are able to bring a different view to than men, simply because they have a different experience with many of those issues,” she said.

However, Scott also said the voting in sessions will generally have more to do with party rather than gender.

“It has to do with the fact that they're Democrats,” Scott said. “You're just as likely to see Conservative policies being pushed from Republican women.”

In the Senate, where tensions and political ties can run deeper than in the House, female legislators have been bound together by their gender and a tradition of monthly dinners arranged by Sen. Barbara Mikulski. Male senators are not invited and the discussions are considered private.

“If John Boehner can golf with Barack Obama, I see nothing wrong with the women of Congress getting together to have dinner,” Scott said. “It's part of Washington politics. It's possible these dinners will pave some roads for more bipartisan legislation, or at least easier negotiations.”

Sturgess said although she’s not feminist, she does like the idea of a stronger presence and representation of women in national politics.

“Senate has, for so long, been a ‘boys club,’” she said. “I am very pleased with the idea of these women coming together.”

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