Women number few among valley’s elected officials
Only one in seven town council and board seats in the valley are held by women. The proportion of female involvement in Eagle County politics is less than that in other Colorado legislative bodies. In the Colorado Senate for example, 10 out of 35 – or 29 percent – of lawmakers are women. In the state House of Representatives, there are 22 women, accounting for 34 percent of the total 65 lawmakers. The percentage of Vail Valley council members and trustees who are female is comparatively meager at 17 percent.”A number of females is important, almost necessary” in local politics, says former Eagle County commissioner Johnnette Phillips.
But, Colorado and even the Vail Valley are ahead of the federal government. The House of Representatives only has 63 female lawmakers, accounting for 14 percent of the 435-member assembly, and there are only 14 women in the Senate.”A female voice on the board brings a certain atmosphere to the group,” says Phillips, the first and only woman to be elected Eagle County Commissioner. “I think it’s in the nature of the gender. Women tend to be better at coalition building and making a consensus. When public officials work together it’s better for the county”
Kristi Ferraro, a candidate this year for Avon Town Council says it’s a problem of “expectation.” “People come up to me and say ‘Wow, there’s three women in the race,’ and I say ‘Yeah, and there’s three men as well.’ It should be balanced and representative of the community as whole,” she said.
Whilst acknowledging she’s concerned by the issue, second-term Avon Town Councilwomen Debbie Buckley says there’s nothing stopping women getting involved in politics. “It’s a major problem. But I don’t think it’s a problem in the valley, but a problem in the nation,” she says “There are no barriers. I have never experienced discrimination.”Buckley did say that politics is a clubby business – and as yet, there are very few female members of the club. “Maybe politics is like any other club – you get your friends to join,” she says. “If more women got involved, they will get more of their friends involved. I think women would get involved if they knew how.”All the female politicians and candidates interviewed agreed it was hard for women to raise a family, have a job and then find spare time left over to spend on politics.
“More women would might get involved but it’s very time consuming” Buckley says. “It’s tough to have lots of meetings and to have kids.”Avon Town Council candidate Tamra Underwood agreed. “In our valley and in our society a lot of women are just very busy.” she says. “To be raising a family and holding a job, and then to enter the political forum, is maybe just too much.”Underwood says many women practiced politics differently than men.
“When a lot of women find an issue they are attached to they pour a lot of time into it,” she said. “Traditional politics with lots of issues may not be as appealing to women as single issues. “It is certainly the case at school that lots of women are hands on volunteers,” she added. “Women are often at the bottom, grassroots level.”Vail, Colorado