Opinion

Michigan Legislature eyes a new record for the number of female members

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By any measure, Emily Dievendorf's 25-vote win over Jon Horford in the 77th House District Democrat primary two Tuesdays ago was a surprise. 

Horford had many more endorsements. He raised four times more money. He put out five mailers. He knocked 30,000 doors. Dievendorf's efforts were not as intense. 

That may not be Tuesday's biggest surprise of the Lansing area, though.  

That's reserved for Amy Salisbury. The Haslett-area candidate for the Ingham County Board of Commissioners asked the clerk to take her name off the ballot. She was going to be needed in the Upper Peninsula to care for a family member for most of the summer and wasn't planning to be around much. 

Clerk Barb Byrum said it was too late to be removed from the ballot. Salisbury admitted that she dropped the matter because she wasn't planning on campaigning and didn't expect to win. 

She defeated 21-year-old Graham Diedrich by 46 votes in the Democratic primary anyway. 

Not taking anything away from either Dievendorf or Salisbury, but female candidates across the state and across the country are seeing more documented successes at the ballot box.  

The year 2022 will be the first time in Michigan history both major-party gubernatorial candidates are women. Both secretary of state candidates are are as well. 

In the Michigan House and Senate there were 109 female candidates in 2022, continuing an upward trend, according to numbers compiled by the Center for American Women In Politics. 

At least 47 women who won their primary races last week are projected to win in November. Realistically, 65 could win. The record for most female Michigan legislators is 53 from 2018. 

These numbers are up markedly from 2014 (31 women winners), 2010 (30), 2006 (29) and 2002 (35), based on CAWP's research. 

In 1980 nationwide, only 10% of state legislators were women. By 2022, that percentage rose to 31.1%. 

If a state Legislature is truly representative of the people, though, that number should be at least 50%. Nevada is the only state that's there (58.7%). Michigan's 31% is 12th in the country, according to CAWP. 

It's more than the numbers, though. More women in leadership positions are bringing different issues to the forefront. 

This term, Rep. Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Twp., championed a first-of-its-kind, 24/7 988 hotline for those suffering mental health emergencies. 

The chair of the House's Public Health Appropriations Committee is now spearheading a 27-bill package on addressing human trafficking, a subject first championed by former Sen. Judy Emmons. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is making affordable child care for working parents one of her top priorities. One of Attorney General Dana Nessel's legal crusades is stopping unscrupulous actors from taking over the estates of vulnerable adults through the court system and then squandering their assets. 

Sen. Sylvia Santana helped push juvenile justice into the forefront of the Republican majority's attention in the Legislature last year. 

The examples here are numerous. Female legislators and government leaders spotlight issues that often aren't given the same priority by male legislators. 

I'm not saying the Michigan Legislature wouldn't have cracked the whip on creepy doctors after the Larry Nasser scandal at Michigan State without female legislators.  

But Sen. Margaret O'Brien pushed the snowball down the hill.  

When catastrophically injured car accident patients begged for changes to the auto insurance law so their caregivers could get paid, the first Republican committee chair to buck leadership and give patients a hearing was the person who wore a "Q" pin earlier this session: Rep. Daire Rendon. 

The push-button talking points seem to be the same regardless of whom is charged. Republicans and Democrats campaign on carefully poll tested issues that are focus-grouped to gin up people's passions. 

The real difference is seen in the day-to-day work of a state legislator, or any government leader for that matter.  

Female legislators are bringing more issues into the limelight, and it's fair to say we all will see more of it. 

michigan, legislature, female, members

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