John Laird: Some folks still ignore the value of women in politics

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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Isolated cases of colossal cluelessness about women continue to weaken America's claim to being one of the world's most advanced societies.

Before I trot out the most recent coffee-spewing example of rancid male rhetoric about females, allow me to exonerate Clark County and Washington state from this condemnation.

No one around here seems to have noticed, but history was made last Nov. 6 in Clark County's three main legislative districts. For the first time, a majority of those nine legislators are women: Sharon Wylie, Ann Rivers, Annette Cleveland, Liz Pike and Monica Stonier. Friday I checked with Betty Sue Morris -- who served in the Legislature from 1989 through 1996 -- and she confirmed that this is the first time five women have represented Clark County's three major districts.

Does this make the delegation better? Not necessarily. It just means the community has reached a milestone in equal representation.

At the state judicial level, a milestone was reached on Jan. 14 when newly elected Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud was sworn in at the Washington State Supreme Court. For the first time, the state's high court has both a female majority and a female chief justice (Barbara Madsen).

Although these accomplishments are unprecedented, they're not all that surprising. Washington has long been a model state in electing women, starting in 1913 when Frances C. Axtell of Whatcom County and Nena Jolidon Croake of Pierce County joined 95 men in the state House of Representatives.

In fact, for 11 years -- 1993 through 2004 -- Washington ranked No. 1 in percentage of women legislators. We now rank ninth nationally; 30 percent (44 of 147) of the state legislators are women. This information is according to the office of new Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, one of 15 women serving in that role nationwide.

Annoying news elsewhere

However, beyond our corner of the country, abject ignorance about the value of women in politics continues to be exemplified at both the collective and individual levels.

One good example of warped thinking among groups of men is the refusal by leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives to even consider extending the Violence Against Women Act. Last year, the bill passed in the Senate 68-31. The House's failure to act, as Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., wrote in an op-ed for cnn.com, "allowed the clock to run out on protections that bill would have provided to millions of women across our country."

Such primitive foot-dragging could be costly, politically speaking. Murray also wrote about how "House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor refused to budge. Ignoring voices in their own party and the clear message sent by American women in the last election, they instead decided to side with the far right wing of their party by allowing the bill to expire."

As for recent gaffes by individuals, No. 1 among public figures is a slam dunk: Pat Robertson, the morality police chief at Christian Broadcasting Network. Ol' Pat has determined the cause of the high divorce rate: ugly women. According to huffingtonpost.com, he told a caller who complained about romance-deficient parents: "It may be your mom isn't as sweet as you think she is. She may be kind of hard-nosed."

Then Robertson reminisced about an "awful looking" woman who told her preacher about her husband's increased drinking. "The preacher looked at her and said, 'Madam, if I was married to you I'd start to drink too,'" Robertson guffawed.

"You always have to keep that spark of love alive. It just isn't something to just lie there, 'Well, I'm married to him so he's got to take me slatternly looking.' You've got to fix yourself up, look pretty." Robertson is an expert on marriage, having been married for more than a half century.

Pat neglected to add: After you fix yourselves up, ladies, stay out of politics. Men's work, ya know.