Women win NH; Vt. falls behind - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Women win NH; Vt. falls behind

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On election night some voters cheered for something that had never happened before: New Hampshire made history, electing the first all-women delegation.

Reporter Kristin Carlson: What was your reaction to that?

Gaye Symington: I think it's really cool. I'm a little bit jealous.

Gaye Symington is one of only two women to ever be elected speaker of the Vermont House. Vermont only has one woman elected statewide, treasurer Beth Pearce. And the state has never elected a woman to Congress.

Kristin Carlson: Vermont is considered such a liberal state-- more liberal than New Hampshire-- why aren't there women in leadership roles at the top of the ticket?

Gaye Symington: I don't know there is an easy answer to that.

Symington says it's more about the candidate than gender. She ran for governor and lost against Republican Jim Douglas, a popular incumbent. She's says having women in leadership positions sparks other women to get involved, like in New Hampshire.

"I don't think people elect people on gender, but I think it's powerful when you have a woman in a position of leadership, other women are going to see themselves in that role," Symington said.

"So maybe Vermont got ahead of itself a little bit and now it is behind," said Linda Fowler, a political scientist at Dartmouth College.

Fowler says Vermont made history when Madeleine Kunin was elected governor in 1984. But Fowler says what's different is New Hampshire voters are more open to political newcomers than Vermont voters, allowing people to springboard to high office. Democrat Annie Kuster defeated Republican incumbent Charlie Bass, heading to Congress despite never holding public office.

Fowler says New Hampshire's political system has more "entry points" for political newbies; it has more legislative seats and many prominent state offices are appointed by the governor.

"But in the end you can only have successful women running for office if they are moving into politics as younger women and moving up the career ladder," Fowler said.

"There really is a stranglehold on those top positions," said Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe.

Scheuermann says there is a logjam of male incumbents in Vermont. She says party also matters in such a Democratic state, but she's hopeful for change.

Kristin Carlson: Do you think it's just a matter of time?

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann: Yes, I do. Let me be clear: I think there are some very capable women who could be down there and effective right now from Vermont.

Kristin Carlson: Why is it important to have women in leadership?

Gaye Symington: I think it matters because any system works better when you have diversity, when you have different ways of working.

Symington says a bright spot is the state Legislature. For the last session, Vermont was ranked second in the country for having the most women in the state Legislature. New Hampshire was first.

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