Texas women who dare to venture into Texas politics tend to have an extra layer of spunk, whatever their political ideology.
As writer Calvin Trillin quipped in his 1972 profile of former state Rep. Sissy Farenthold, “It is customary for any woman in politics who is against the established regime to be called feisty.”
Sissy overcame her nickname to expose corruption among Democrats who controlled the state in the late 1960s. Barbara Jordan’s eloquence could charm even her most conservative colleagues into submission.
Kay Bailey Hutchison started out as a pretty face but proved to be a tough and independent leader. Ann Richards popularized pluck for a whole generation of Texas women.
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Yet despite many role models, far too few women hold public office in Texas. Women are more than 50 percent of the Texas population but a scant 21 percent of the 181 state legislators, even as policy debates continue to focus on family planning and other issues especially important to women.
Having more women in elected office has obvious implications for fair representation in a democracy. But research shows another valuable benefit: Female legislators in both parties are more likely than their male counterparts to prioritize legislation on issues affecting women, children and families.
With too many women and families struggling in the Texas economy today, that matters.
A recent study that the Center for Public Policy Priorities completed for the Texas Women’s Foundation, shows women in Texas are 20 percent more likely than men to be poor. In fact, half of all poor families in Texas are headed by single mothers.
The fastest-growing jobs in Texas are those held by women and those that pay the least — jobs like home health aides, fast food workers, maids and cashiers.
Over 1 million women in Texas (20 percent) have low-wage jobs, compared with 8 percent of working men in the state.
The good news is that policy solutions can lift all boats, helping women and men while shrinking the gender gap in our state.
We need to help Texans finish college and reduce their debt by increasing state grant aid and work-study programs for all low-income Texans.
And full-day pre-kindergarten and child care subsidies for low-income families would put more people on the path to economic security.
We’ve also got to raise wages for all workers and shrink the wage gap for women (79 cents to the dollar).
Let’s help more women get ahead with a quality education, a meaningful career and the chance to run for office.
More feisty Texas women will mean a better future for all of us.
Ann Beeson is executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.