Last week MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown (TDR) hosted by Chuck Todd covered NJ as part of it’s 50 states “Deep Dive” on politics in the US. I must say I like TDR and Chuck Todd but I was disappointed that he did not discuss the lack of diversity and women in NJ elected officials and the irony of this fact.
What do I mean? Well as TDR so cleverly discussed NJ is a “Blue” state and even though there is a large Republican presence it is quite a politically progressive state. Looking at the demographics of the state you would expect to see more diverse people and especially women as leaders in the state house and in the US Congress.
But NJ has not had a woman in Congress since Margaret Roukema (R-NJ) who departed the House of Representatives in 2003. There has been one woman governor and NJ has never had a woman in the US Senate. There has only been four minorities representing the state in the US Congress Rep. Donald Payne, Sen. Robert Menendez, Rep. Donald Payne Jr. and Sen. Cory Booker.
There is a reason NJ is often the “butt” of many jokes, I attribute this to it being “the melting pot” of the country. It is full of great cultural characters both living and fantastic artistic scenery, as the opening credits to the HBO hit series The Soprano’s so wonderfully showed he world.
The theory of Representative Bureaucracy suggests that organizations perform better if their workforces reflect the characteristics of their constituent population. (Journal of Public Administration and Research 2005) In laymen terms “leadership demographics should mirror the demographics of its constituents in order to work better and more inclusive.”
In that balance it is thought that policy will reflect the needs of the community. It is quite apparent that this is not the case on a national level, just look at the US Senate where for the first time in modern history there are two African American Senators serving at the same time. I always found it funny when some of my fellow advocates were shocked that there were no senators on the Black Caucus. I used to have to remind them “well there are no black senators”. (this was between Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-IL) departed in 1999 and Sen. Barak Obama (D-IL) entered-2005) It is sad and quite frustrating that Representative Bureaucracy is missing in such a diverse state like NJ.
NJ is the most densely populated state in the US, with a population of a little more than 8.8 Million. Most of NJ is rural with multiple large cities like Jersey City, Newark, Elizabeth and Trenton, where most live and work. There are 21 Counties and 565 Municipalities. There are over 13000 elected and appointed officials throughout the state; hence the label NJ is a political machine. Due to multiple gubernatorial successions, NJ amended its state constitution and created the position of Lieutenant Governor in 2006, a position currently held by a woman.
Interesting history about the NJ Gubernatorial position: Gov. Christie just broke a NJ Governor streak. He is the first governor to serve in the position for four years straight since 1998 when Gov. Christie Todd Whitman served from 1994 – 1998. She left office in the third year of her second term to become Sec. of the Environmental Protection Agency in the George W. Bush administration. There were two gentlemen who served one day as governor in 2002. John Bennett served four days as governor the same year. State Senator Majority leader Richard Codey, a Democrat, served out the final two years of that administration. Gov. McGreevey had his infamous departure from office after serving only two years. Gov. Corzine was out of office for weeks because he was seriously injured in a car accident in April 2007. Richard Codey stepped in for the second time and served as Governor from the moment Corzine went into surgery through his recuperation. Gov. Christie entered office in 2010, served four years straight and is now on his second term. (Congratulations on that accomplishment)
Let’s talk numbers. The median household income in NJ is $69,667 which is the second highest in the country. African Americans, Latinos and Asians make up 42% of the population. Almost a quarter (21%) of the population is foreign born. In 30% of the homes a language other than English is spoken. People with disabilities (PWD) make up 12% of the population and women make up 51% of the population. (Sources US Census and American Community Survey)
Now with those numbers you would think that the NJ political leadership would have a higher number of women and people of diverse backgrounds in the state house and in the US Congress. But that is not so. WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? Women make up 29% of the state house, that is 35 seats out of 120. But they are in the leadership positions. State Sen. Loretta Weinberg is the Majority Leader, Sen. Nia Gill is the Pro Tem and Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver is the Speaker in the House. The later two women are African American and from the same county in NJ. As stated before, there are no women representing NJ in the US Congress. But that could all change in November 2014 in two NJ Districts.
Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ- 12th District) has decided to retire and there is a strong battle in the NJ Congressional 3rd District with a woman on the ballot. Sorry, I know there should be more than two opportunities in a state with 8.8M people and 51% of them are women. But be hopeful and know that there are groups working on this. The Eagleton Institute of Politics is housed at Rutgers the State University. The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) is a research center within Eagleton. They publish national reports, host lectures and events and conduct surveys on this issue. I would be remiss if I did not say that Eagleton was founded by suffragist and League of Women Voters member Florence Peshine Eagleton in 1956 in NJ. (Hmmmmmm)
The irony here is that many people look at NJ and see progressive politics, but when you do a serious “Deep Dive” TDR you will see that the political leadership driving the policy discussion in the state is not. There are states where the demographics are nowhere near as diverse or progressive in policy, as NJ but the Congressional leaders are more diverse. Texas for example, in the 113th Congress has multiple people of diverse backgrounds (9) and three women in the House. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), who is a woman and African American, is no new comer to the House she was first elected in 1992 and her cohorts were elected in ’94 and ’96. This is the “Lone Star” state!
NJ elected women statistics are a little better than the national statistics. As women make up 19% of the US Congress, holding 99 seats, that would be 20 seats in the Senate and 79 in the House of Representatives. As of 2014 only 47 women of color have served in the US Congress. (CAWP – 2014 Women in Congress Fact Sheet)
The 2014 election season is going to be exciting because of all of the changes in both the House and Senate with retirements and close races. The country, in fact the world is waiting to see if the Democrats or Republicans come out on top. And those of us who follow NJ politics are anxiously waiting to see if this will be the end of an era where NJ voters put a woman (and possibly two) in the US House of Representatives.
Dara – Washington, DC
To learn more about:
Congressional Black Caucus
Eagleton Institute of Politics http://www.eagleton.rutgers.edu/index.php
Center for American Women and Politics
League of Women Voters