State Rep. Debbie Stafford’s decision this week to dump the Republicans and join up with Democrats underscores a patriarchal reality for women of the Grand Old Party: Once again, men rule.Stafford’s departure leaves just five Republican women lawmakers in Colorado’s 100-member body – including four members of the House and one state Senator.
Of the dwindling roster, Assistant Minority Leader Nancy Spence, from Arapahoe County, is the lone GOP woman left in a party leadership position.
The status of women in Colorado’s GOP leadership is a stark contrast to just five years ago, when Republican Lola Spradley made history by becoming the Colorado’s first female Speaker of the House. That year, 2002, Rep. Norma Anderson, a Republican from Lakewood, was the House Majority Leader.
At the time, Spradley acknowledged the milestone, but noted in an interview with stateline.org, that, male or female, “it doesn’t change what the public expects.”
That was true, agreed Andrea Herrera, assistant vice chancellor of academic diversity and development at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Yet, Herrera noted, “What I think will make a difference is that as our government diversifies and we see women in leadership, it not only provides role models for others, but what we are beginning to see is the visible institutionalization of diversity.”
In fact, Colorado was the first state in the union to allow women in the legislature. In 1894, Clara Cressingham, Carrie C. Holly and Frances Clock – all Republicans – were elected to the state House. Two years later, Martha Hughes Cannon – a Democrat – was elected to the state Senate.
But five years after Republican women made their latest history in Colorado, only four remain in the House of Representatives. They are: Stella Garza-Hicks, Amy Stephens and Marsha Looper – who are all from El Paso County – and Ellen Roberts of Durango.
At the same time, Democratic women have made substantial strides in recent years – both in numbers and in leadership.
Of the 35 members of the Senate, there are 20 Democrats. They include 10 men and 10 women – including Joan Fitz-Gerald, who is is currently the President of the Senate. Female senators currently chair several committees, including Finance; Transportation; Business, Labor & Technology; and Education.
Comparatively, of 14 Republican senators, 13 are male – with Spence the only female.
And, in the House of Representatives, with Stafford now a Democrat, the male-to-female representation is evenly split – with 20 men and 20 women. Female Democrats hold numerous leadership positions, including Majority Leader, Majority Whip, Speaker Pro Tempore and currently chair six of 10 committees, including Transportation & Energy; Health & Human Services; Education (this year); Local Government; Business Affairs & Labor; and Agriculture & Livestock.
Indeed, just as Stafford was switching parties this week –