This Washington

A Woman's Place is In the Legislature

By Josh Feit March 21, 2012

This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Gael Tarleton is also running in the 36th. We regret the omission. 

The Capitol Record reported today on a press conference held by seven state legislators---five women, two men---this afternoon to call attention to cuts to women's health care in the state senate Republicans' budget proposal. The loud pushback from legislators against the cuts signals a renewed emphasis on women's rights---led largely, though not exclusively, by women---at the state level, one that parallels the backlash against anti-woman proposals in Congress.

The budget proposal, supported by all 22 senate Republicans and three conservative Democrats, would, the legislators said, cut 27 percent from state family-planning programs and reduce funding for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which provides temporary cash and medical help to low-income families. (Josh covered the cuts here). They also called on the senate to re-introduce the reproductive parity act, which would require insurers that fund maternity care to also pay for abortions, with an exemption for religious providers; that bill died in the budget melee earlier this month.

The upcoming elections could strengthen or challenge the new emphasis on women's issues by pushing the state legislature's gender balance (currently 32 percent female) in either direction. Six longtime female legislators are retiring---Sen. Margarita Prentice (D-11) and Reps. Debbie Regala (D-27), Mary Lou Dickerson (D-36), Deb Eddy (D-48), and Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney (D-46). Additionally, Rep. Jeannie Darnielle (D-29) is leaving her house seat to run for Regala's senate seat.

So far, two men have filed to replace Prentice, one man and one woman (Darnielle) have filed to replace Regala, one man and one woman (Lauren Walker) have filed to replace Darnielle, two men and four women (port commissioner Gael Tarleton, Green Party activist Linde Knighton, Progressive Majority leader Noel Frame, and Mike O'Brien aide Sahar Fathi) have filed to replace Dickerson, two women (Sarajane Siegfriedt and Jessyn Farrell) have filed to replace Gutierrez Kenney, and two men have filed to replace Eddy. In addition, former 25th District Democratic Rep. Dawn Morrell, who lost by 30 votes to Hans Zeiger in 2010, just announced she would run for the other 25th District seat, which is being vacated by Bruce Dammier, who's running for state senate.

In a statement yesterday, Morrell said she was motivated to run again by "recent Federal and State debates over contraception coverage for women, and what she sees as a lack of focus on important economic issues"---a sentiment that echoed one made last week by Farrell, who cited "the retirement of several high profile women from theLegislature, the escalating national and state-wide debates over women’s health care, and persistent attacks on basic environmental protections" among her reasons for running.

And in a statement this morning, Fathi---who noted she would be the first Iranian American woman in the state legislature---emphasized civil rights and social justice, saying she "grew up idolizing people like Shirin Ebadi, the first woman to become a judge in Iran, and Wangari Mathai, the first woman to earn a PhD in all of East and Central Africa. I grew up admiring these women who broke down barriers and stood up for the poor and most vulnerable people in their communities."
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