Women Dominate New Hampshire State Senate
JACKI LYDEN, host:
Here's another historical milestone from this year's election. New Hampshire just became the first state ever to have a legislative body where women outnumber men. On December 3, 13 women and 11 men will take their oaths of office in the state Senate there. That makes the Senate 54 percent female in New Hampshire, if you're counting, and we are. All the state senators, women and men, are led by Sylvia Larsen, a Democrat, who's on the line now. Hello, Madam President.
State Senator SYLVIA LARSEN (Democrat, Concord, New Hampshire): Good afternoon, Jacki.
LYDEN: So why do you think this breakthrough happened in New Hampshire at this point in time?
State Senator LARSEN: Well, New Hampshire has a long tradition of active participation by women in state legislature. Even last session, we did have 10 women in the Senate of 24 and 140 women in the New Hampshire House. It is a citizen participation legislature. And it means that we don't make careers of it, but women do tend to be active community leaders more and more over the years.
LYDEN: So you've been in the state Senate for 14 years.
State Senator LARSEN: I have.
LYDEN: How have things changed since you began in politics?
State Senator LARSEN: I think there's a greater acceptance of women as leaders since I've been in office. I think they really don't necessarily look at gender in terms of leadership. They're looking more at the policies we promote, whether they trust us, whether we're likeable enough. Some of those issues transcend gender.
LYDEN: Here in Washington, only 16 out of 100 senators are women. So your percentage in New Hampshire is much higher.
State Senator LARSEN: It is. I had a nice conversation with Bill Clinton, though. And he gave us another goal. He said, you know, that may be true in the United States, but you need to appreciate that in Rwanda, it is 56 percent women. So he said, now you have another goal to aim for.
LYDEN: Absolutely. And yeah, we shouldn't feel - I suppose you shouldn't stand too proud then, huh?
State Senator LARSEN: No, and truly it isn't - it wasn't about electing women. We were electing the most capable. I think people are - I hope they're seeing that women are consensus builders and capable of getting the job done. We've had - made amazing progress these past two years. We had a checklist of things to do, bills to pass. And we went right through them with our House speaker, who is also a female, and our good Governor John Lynch. And that kind of teamwork really made a difference here in this state.
LYDEN: Sylvia, this is a milestone in numbers. But does this have substantial impact on the legislative agenda there?
State Senator LARSEN: It has effect in that, I think, we have a good sense of consensus building. We are facing a tough budget, like many state legislatures, and I think there's a real desire to produce a balanced budget with compassion. So I think there's a good team in place, and it happens to be a female team - female majority in the team.
LYDEN: Well, congratulations. And we'll wish you good luck.
State Senator LARSEN: Thank you, Jacki. It's terrific to celebrate this. And I think these women have tremendous opportunity to prove both their ability and the leadership style that will result in our having a successful next two years.
LYDEN: Sylvia Larsen is president of the New Hampshire state Senate. She joined me from her home in Concord.
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