The 2013 Idaho Legislature is more than a quarter women. The Legislature has actually lost three women from the previous session. Still, the male to female split at Idaho’s Statehouse is better than the national average. The National Conference of State Legislatures’ data show women make up 24 percent of state lawmakers nationally.
So, does the gender make-up of our elected officials matter? It’s one of the questions StateImpact wanted to explore as we gathered basic demographic information on all of Idaho’s legislators after November’s election. The gender breakdown in Idaho’s total population is nearly 50-50.
Rep. Maxine Bell (R-Jerome) just started her 13th term in the Idaho Legislature. While she’s part of the Republican majority, she’s also part of a minority group — women. Bell says she’s worked with smart, influential women during her tenure at the Capitol. Rep. Bell included Celia Gould, the current director of Idaho’s Agriculture Department and former legislator; Wendy Jaquet, a Ketchum Democrat who retired from her House seat this year; and Rep. JoAn Wood, a Republican from Rigby who started her 16th term this week, among people she’s been honored to work with.
Bell doesn’t necessarily think the Idaho Legislature needs more women elected to office. “They [women] do bring different perspectives, but it doesn’t have to be equal,” says Bell. “Every issue is family, whether it’s crime, education, health – there are no female or male issues.”
“None of the women I have seen and served with were shrinking violets,” Bell adds. “Maybe that makes the difference, you don’t need the numbers if you’re willing to speak up and be active and get yourself out there.”
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett (D-Ketchum) sees it differently. “I believe, in all aspects of governing. It should be more balanced,” says Stennett. “I think it should be more balanced party wise, ideologically, we should be as diverse as we can.”
Stennett wants to see an Idaho Legislature that is more balanced between men and women. “Women just think differently, they process differently,” says Stennett. “A lot of social justice issues and women’s issues are more dear to their heart, they lend a perspective their male counterparts just won’t see sometimes.”