Not in Congress, where only three of the 36 members Texas sends to the House are of the female persuasion.
Week after week at the U.S. Capitol, the Republican congressional delegation from Texas gathers for a ritual Thursday lunch. And year after year, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth has been the lone woman sitting at the table.
“I keep ’em under control most of the time, but not all the time. I do my best,” Granger said with a laugh of her 24 male GOP colleagues.
“It just is puzzling,” she added about the disparity. “And I talk to young women all the time and say their voices need to be heard.”
The Democratic side of the state’s congressional roster is little better, with two women, Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, among 11. In total, that means Texas has three women serving in a 36-member House delegation, plus two male senators.
And its been nearly 20 years since the last new woman from Texas — Granger — entered Congress, if you set aside ex-Rep. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs’ largely ceremonial two-month stint in late 2006.
Republicans and Democrats tend to agree that electing women is good for party, country and Congress, and there is tangible evidence that both parties invest in trying to elect more of them. But actually doing so, particularly in Texas, has proved easier said than done.
About one-fifth of Congress is female, with 84 women serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and 20 in the Senate. The partisan breakdown leans heavily in the Democratic column. As a dominant state in national politics, Texas’ dearth of females is a top concern for those who want to see women advance.
Nearly every state and national political operative interviewed for this story pointed to one major culprit: the congressional map.
The Republican-dominated Texas Legislature re-drew the state’s congressional districts after the 2010 census aiming to secure as many Republican seats as possible. But the new districts also protected incumbents. With little turnover comes fewer opportunities.
“There are members of Congress in the delegation, I’m sure, that have a very strong base in their district … and their constituents are happy with them,” Jackson Lee said. “But [female representation] is something that we have to put on the minds of Texans.”
Other Democrats are more blunt, arguing that any incumbent protection is going to favor men.
But there have been open-seat races in recent years, thanks in most part to Texas picking up four seats in the last census. And it’s not that women are getting beat. They aren’t even running.
Since the new lines were drawn, there have been at least a half-dozen open primary races where women either did not run or ran disorganized and underfunded campaigns.
In contrast, the mid-1990s marked the high point for women in Texas politics.
Here’s a look at the female candidates for Congress in 2012, the first election after the last round of redistricting.
Democratic primary Dist Name Result ================================== 01 Shirley McKellar 100% 04 VaLinda Hathcox 100% 05 Linda Mrosko 39% * 06 Brianna Flores 32% 07 Lissa Squiers 40% + 10 Tawana Cadien 57% 14 Linda Dailey 17% 21 Candace Duval 61% 22 Kesha Rogers 51% 25 Elaine Henderson 100% 27 Rose Meza Harrison 31% * 30 Barbara Mallory Caraway 18% # 32 Katherine McGovern 84% 33 Chrysta Castaneda 2% 33 Katherine Hicks 13% 34 Denise Saenz Blanchard 13% + 35 Maria Luisa Alvarado 6% 35 Sylvia Romo 21% Republican primary Dist Name Result ================================== 13 Pamela Barlow 22% # 14 Felicia Harris 19% + 15 Rebecca Cervera 20% 22 Barbara Carlson 24% # 25 Dianne Costa 9% 34 Jessica Puente Bradshaw 35% * 34 Adele Garza 36% + 35 Susan Narvaiz 52% 36 Lois Dickson Myers 3% * = Won runoff + = Lost runoff # = Challenged incumbent
A lot more Democratic challengers, which is consistent with the overall higher rate of female incumbency among Democratic women in Congress. Of course, Democratic candidates have a lot more targets to aim for, and in most cases these races are unwinnable. I don’t have any presciptions here – plenty has been written about how to encourage women to actually jump into races – but I do agree that a lack of competitive seats plus a lack of turnover among established incumbents does nothing to help. In other words, I don’t expect anything to change any time soon.