Glass ceilings are not shatterproof. This month, Virginia’s General Assembly attests to that.
Of the 140 seats in the House of Delegates (100) and Senate (40), 41 will be filled by women. For the first time in its 400-year history, a woman, Eileen Filler-Corn, presides as speaker of the House, the oldest continuously-elected governing body in the Western Hemisphere. Ghazala Hashmi became the first Muslim woman elected to the state Senate.
Those 41 seats might not seem like cause for celebration considering the fact that more than 50 percent of the state’s population is female and less than 30 percent of its General Assembly members are.
Still, the glass is cracking, and a host of capable women, many energized by the confrontational politics of the Trump era, are climbing through to join the boys’ club.
Thirty years ago, in 1990, women held only 16 seats, 13 in the House and three in the Senate. Go back a decade farther and you find Eva Mae Scott, who became the first woman ever elected to the state Senate in 1979.
Scott, a pharmacist, businesswoman and newspaper publisher, won her Senate seat after redistricting efforts threatened, for the second time, to force her out of the House of Delegates. If she had not passed away last March at the tender age of 92, she might have found humor in our state’s latest efforts to either kill or protect gerrymandering.
Scott, by the way, was no firebrand for equal rights for women. She described herself as a “real conservative” who opposed abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment. A couple of months before her death, she came back to Richmond to oppose the latest, belated efforts to revive the ERA.
While the great majority of present-day women in the General Assembly are Democrats, no one should expect them to vote alike, progressively or otherwise, on the issues.
The effect of this leveling of the legislative playing field, gender-wise, remains to be seen. With hot-button issues like gun control, redistricting, access to voting and the future of Confederate monuments on the table during the 60-day session, in addition to the attempt to disinter the long-dead ERA, there are many opportunities – and risks – for the predominately Democratic women in a scenario where the Dems own a 55-45 advantage in the House and 21-19 edge in the Senate.
It has been a good two-year run for women in Virginia politics. In addition to the state legislative sea change, three women won U.S House of Representatives seats from Virginia in 2018. Two of them unseated men.
Some of the guys aren’t taking it well.
Republican Scott Taylor, who lost his U.S. House seat to Elaine Luria in 2018 and hopes to regain it this year, recently took a graceless shot at Luria, who retired from the Navy at the rank of commander. In criticizing her and six other first-time Democratic representatives who aided in President Trump’s impeachment, he called them “these girls that have national security backgrounds.”
Luria pointed out that she wears heels, but “wore steel-toed boots for 20 years in the Navy.” She added, “It’s 2020 –– girls can do anything.”
Yes, they can.