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Nov. 8 Election News from AAUW Washington

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As a result of yesterday’s elections, for the first time in U.S. history a woman will be speaker of the house when the 110th Congress convenes in January. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is expected to be elevated to speaker now that the Democrats have won the majority of seats in the House. Pelosi addressed the AAUW National Convention in June 2005. As Action Network went to press, the balance of power in the Senate was still in question – and all seemed to hinge on the state of Virginia.In terms of total numbers, it is unclear whether 2006 will match 1992, when women almost doubled their ranks in both chambers. That year, women picked up 19 House seats and three Senate seats, putting 47 women in the House and seven women in the Senate. Before yesterday’s election, there were 67 women in the House and 14 women in the Senate, making women 15 percent of the entire legislative branch

Women Make Gains in the House
While Pelosi’s achievement is notable, women candidates won in other ways yesterday. There were 134 women running for House seats of which 71 were either elected or reelected. There were 67 women in the House during the 109th Congress, so women have gained at least four seats and possibly more. Ten new women were elected, while several incumbent Republican women lost their reelection bids. NOTE: Eight races in which women were running are, at this writing, still considered too close to call.

Many Women up for Leadership Roles in Reorganized House
Women in the House are poised to take on some key leadership positions, if they move up the ladder as seniority would dictate. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) will likely become chair of House Rules Committee, which sets the rules for floor debate. Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA) will likely chair the House Administration Committee, which oversees federal elections and day-to-day operations in the chamber. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) is in line to rule the Small Business Committee, particularly important because women are becoming entrepreneurs in disproportionate numbers. And Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) is next in line on the House Intelligence Committee, a key position in the post-Sept. 11 security environment.

All Incumbent Women Senators Re-Elected
Twelve women in total ran for the Senate, of which eight were either elected or reelected. This brings the total number of women in the Senate up to 16 for the 110th Congress – a gain of two.

Women Governors Add a Seat
Ten women ran for governor across the country, six of which were either elected or reelected. This brings to nine the number of women governors for 2007. This represents a modest increase of one over 2006. However, governor slots are seen as a good pathway to the presidency, so any increase here is notable.

States Increase Minimum Wage at the Ballot Box
Ballot measures to increase the state minimum wage passed in six states. Because two out of three minimum wage earners are women, AAUW believes raising the minimum wage is a necessary step towards increasing the economic security of women.

Reproductive Rights Restored in South Dakota
Voters in South Dakota voted to repeal the South Dakota abortion ban yesterday. AAUW of South Dakota had been campaigning for the ballot measure to overturn the ban. On March 6, Governor Mike Rounds of South Dakota signed into law the most restrictive abortion ban of any state in the nation. The law would have banned all abortions in the state except to save a pregnant woman’s life which is immediately threatened. However, under the legislation, women who are diagnosed with cancer which does not provide an immediate threat (about 1 in 1,500 pregnancies are complicated by some form of cancer) would not be able to begin treatments like chemotherapy or radiation, which if administered could abort the pregnancy. This delay in treatment may ultimately speed the spread of the illness and shorten the life expectancy of the mother. The law also fails to make exceptions for women who have been the victims of rape or incest.

AAUW has a long history of supporting reproductive freedom for all women, beginning in 1935 when the Association advocated legalizing the dispensing of contraceptive information by physicians. This history continues today in our member-adopted Public Policy Program, which was passed at the 2005 National Convention. AAUW’s position is grounded in the belief that every woman must have the ability to make decisions concerning her reproductive life within the dictates of her own moral and religious beliefs. AAUW’s stance in support of reproductive rights was firmly established in a 1971 convention resolution, and has been reaffirmed as an action priority at every convention since 1977.

Affirmative Action Abolished in Michigan
Not all the news coming out of this election was good for women. AAUW of Michigan was heavily involved in a coalition campaign to defeat an anti-affirmative action ballot measure that will make unconstitutional affirmative action in higher education, public employment, and contracting. The ballot measure passed despite the efforts to defeat it by the broad One United Michigan coalition. AAUW supports affirmative action programs that establish equal opportunity for women and minorities and encourage diversity in educational institutions and in workplaces. AAUW’s mission to promote gender equity in school and at work is founded on the belief, articulated in AAUW’s legislative program since 1939, that all individuals have the right to full and free opportunity intellectually, socially, and economically, including the right to be employed according to abilities without regard to sex. Affirmative Action has opened a lot of doors for women that will now be shut to the women of Michigan.

Fallout from the Election
Unrelated to the gains made by women in this election, but impossible to ignore because of the timing, is today’s resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. This move follows much criticism from senior military officers on his handling of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and increasing public concerns about the war.