Nashville Voters Get Chance to Elect More Women

tennessean-news-graphicBonnie Dow. The Tennessean. July 20, 2015.

This summer’s elections will mark a historic turnover in the composition of the Metro Council, and they offer an equally historic chance to alter the council’s overwhelmingly male makeup.

More women — 35 total — will be on the ballot than ever before: two women are running for mayor, six women are running for the five at-large seats, and 27 women are running for 19 district seats.

Women make up 51 percent of citizens in Nashville and Davidson County, but just 40 of the more than 500 members elected to Metro Council since 1963 have been women.

Only four women have ever been elected countywide, including Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors and At Large Councilmember and mayoral candidate Megan Barry.

Of the nine constitutional offices in Davidson County (excluding judges), only three have been held by a woman since 1963, including current County Court Clerk Brenda Wynn.

The situation is little better at the state level. At 17.4 percent, Tennessee is ranked 40th in the nation for its percentage of women in the state legislature.

In 2015 why is politics still perceived as a man’s job?

The problem is not electability: nationally, when women run, their chances of winning equal those of men. The problem is getting them to run.

Women’s political ambition starts to decline in comparison to men’s in college, and by the time they are well-situated in their careers — the best time to run — it has dropped even more.

One obvious solution to this problem is more role models — women in office who demonstrate the benefits of women’s leadership

Research shows that in states where more women hold office, women have a better quality of life.

This helps explain why Tennessee consistently ranks at the bottom compared to other states in terms of women’s health, education and poverty.

Only five states rank below us in women’s life expectancy, and we have the fourth-highest infant mortality rate in the nation.

Forty percent of women in Tennessee have experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner, and Nashville’s Metro police receive a domestic violence complaint every 17 minutes on average.

Of the Nashville households headed by women, 31 percent (more than 23,000 families) live in poverty.

Electing more women locally makes a difference. In addition to producing role models, it creates a leadership pipeline, as local leaders develop the connections and skills needed to run at the state and national level.

And when they get elected, policy changes. Because women legislators, regardless of party, are more likely to advance issues of concern to women, including bills dealing with children, education and health care.

Almost 100 years ago, Tennessee distinguished itself as the 36th and final state to ratify the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote.

Our task now is to elect more women to public office so they can turn their talents toward improving our community for everyone.

In this summer’s Metro election, we have a chance to make real progress toward that goal.

Bonnie Dow is associate professor of Communication Studies at Vanderbilt University and the treasurer of Women for Tennessee’s Future, a political action committee that funds women candidates.