Why Women Are Better Politicians

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - April 27, 2005
| Del.icio.us

Six of the 25 members of the Hawaii state Senate are women. All are Democrats. Fifteen women serve in the 51-member state House of Representatives: nine Democrats, six Republicans.

That’s 15 women filling 76 legislative slots — less than onefifth of the whole.

Republican state Rep. Cynthia Thielen thinks that the Legislature would be a better place if she had more female colleagues.

“Women come out of the womb multitasking,” she says. “They have a more rooted perspective on life.

“Women are focused on solving people’s problems instead of focusing on being in control. They’re more interested in making things better rather than making themselves more powerful.”

Thielen points to homelessness and the lack of affordable housing as the state’s most pressing social problems. “When you look around the homelessness and affordable housing issues, most of the key people trying to solve them are women.

“I’m convinced that if the majority of the Legislature were made up of women, we would solve most of the social issues confronting the state.”

Those are outrageously sexist statements, based on simplistic stereotypes of male and female behavior.

And brand me as sexist and simplistic if you will, but I agree with them.

Women do it all — at least the ones I’ve known. They carry the children, bear ’em, rear ’em and feed ’em. They soothe the male ego, feed him, coddle him, serve him or lead him. They keep the house, care for the parents, and make the holidays — all, as often as not, while working a 40- hour week.

Are they better grounded? You bet they are, because they’re solving people’s problems — a husband’s, children’s, parents’— 24/7, every day of the year.

They’re smarter too; they learn faster. Two cases in point. I would argue that Leeward coast Sen. Colleen Hanabusa is the smartest person practicing politics in Hawaii. I mean smart smart.

But being smart and understanding politics are two different things. A highly successful lawyer, Hanabusa won election to the Senate in 1998. There she immediately gained a reputation for being smart — but also for acting foolishly.

As a freshman senator, she made common cause with four other newcomers: Maui Sen. Jann Yagi Buen, Kauai Sen. Jonathon Chun, Hawaii Sen. David Matsuura and Windward Sen. Bob Nakata. Together they took on — willy-nilly — the governor, their fellow Democrats in the majority and the state’s powerful unions.

In 2002, Buen, Chun, Matsuura and Nakata all lost their re-election bids in the Democratic primary. Only Hanabusa survived.

But the lady learned fast. The 2003, 2004 and 2005 versions of Colleen Hanabusa are as smart as ever, but quieter and far less foolish.

“I learned so much about the workings of the system,” says Hanabusa. “I still raise a ruckus, but the ruckus is more directed.”

Her most important lesson?

“I came to understand that it takes at least 13 votes to get anything done around here. You have to sell your idea, or you’re a lone voice in the wind.”

Hanabusa will admit that she “was somewhat chastened” by the loss of her colleagues in the 2002 primaries. “We believed in change, and we thought we could make a difference. Maybe we were a bit naïve, but we stood our ground.”

Hanabusa continues to hold her ground, but more quietly and by “choosing issues better.” There’s talk of her as a congressional candidate in 2006 — or perhaps a gubernatorial candidate.

But that brings me to my second case in point.

In 2002 Linda Lingle became the first Republican elected to the governorship in 40 years. Then, for her first two legislative sessions, she did battle with overwhelming Democratic majorities in the Legislature. They passed bills; she vetoed them; they overrode her vetoes.

Last fall, Lingle went into the elections intent on punishing the Democrats who had thwarted her. Instead, the Republicans lost six House seats.

This legislative session, Gov. Lingle — like Sen. Hanabusa — has learned the value of quiet and the “more directed ruckus.”

Lingle and Hanabusa: smart wahines, fast learners.

Look for more of them — and more like them — in 2006.

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