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Published: Thursday, 4/18/2002

Women eye statehouses

Only the outcome of the fall election will tell whether 2002 could be the antithesis of 1992, when so many women obtained political positions that it was proclaimed the Year of the Woman.

Fewer women are expected to win congressional seats this year, but that's not a reflection of fewer qualified females; it simply means there are more opportunities elsewhere. This year, 36 states will be electing a governor, and women are viable candidates in about a dozen of them. That includes our neighbor to the north, where Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, seeks the governor's job.

Capitol Hill is another story. A decade ago, in 1992, 93 seats were open in the House of Representatives. This year there will be just 42 open seats. And only four of the 34 Senate seats up for election are open.

Moreover, the not-uncustomary tradition of self-preservation prevails these days in the wake of the 2000 Census, in an attempt to protect incumbent seats from a nasty potential foe: congressional redistricting. That makes the challenge of newcomers, male or female, all the more formidable.

But even that tactic occasionally goes awry. In Michigan, two Democrats are pitted against one another. U.S. Rep. Lynn Rivers now is in a House district with U.S. Rep. John D. Dingell. She faces a difficult primary race against a long-term incumbent.

Meanwhile, 60 U.S. representatives and 13 senators are female, and while those figures will change, the number of women in Congress is not likely to be dramatically altered. That's probably why women are hopeful candidates in so many gubernatorial races. Women politicians are going where the prospects are best, and for many that means trying for their state's top job.

Some of those races will be tough, too, if only because many people still bring stereotypes about female candidates to the voting booth. The era of gender discrimination in politics should be behind us. There are good and bad public servants of both sexes. The only thing that should matter is a person's philosophy, policies, and willingness to work hard and make the personal sacrifices public life can entail. Gender should be irrelevant.

Only fall will tell whether the slogan popularized by a familiar bumper sticker will need amending to indicate that “a woman's place is in the House, Senate, and Statehouse.”

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