EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 6, 2008

N.H. first state with female majority in Senate

By Terry Date

New Hampshire women made history Tuesday, too.

For the first time in U.S. history, they make up a majority of the state Senate.

Three more women were propelled to seats in the 24-member state Senate in voting Tuesday, boosting their numbers from 10 to 13.

One of those women elected was Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican and current state representative. She was elected to the Senate with 59 percent of the vote in District 14.

Carson said the state's citizen Legislature is an ideal place for women to get involved in politics.

The small stipend legislators get for their work borders on volunteerism, familiar territory for many women who donate their time as school aides, Brownie troop leaders or with other civic organizations.

Carson said she is proud to be breaking ground on behalf of younger political hopefuls.

"I think we are setting a great example for young women out there, that they can get involved and get elected to office," Carson said.

Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey, which does scholarly research on women's participation in American politics, said New Hampshire's state Senate outcome was a first in the nation.

"You are it," Walsh said. "And it is appropriate that it is the Granite State, because for many, many years New Hampshire was the number one state for women serving in its Legislature, proportionately."

An officer of the National Conference of State Legislatures confirmed New Hampshire is the nation's first state Senate with a female majority.

On Monday, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner said he had his eyes on Senate voting to see if it would be a groundbreaking day for women.

The state has already had a woman governor. It also boasts women as Speaker of the House and Senate president.

On Tuesday, New Hampshire voters elected one of the state's former female leaders, ex-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, to the U.S. Senate, making her the state's first female U.S. senator. She will head to Washington beside Carol Shea-Porter, who was re-elected Tuesday to her 1st Congressional District seat.

Another woman in the state Senate, Maggie Hassan, an Exeter Democrat who was re-elected Tuesday, said officeholders such as Shaheen and former Speaker of the House Donna Sytek of Salem have cleared a path for today's women with an interest in running for office.

"Once voters get comfortable with women as leaders, they start electing them a lot more frequently," said Hassan, elected to the Senate on her second try in 2004.

With the exception of the years between 2001 and 2006, New Hampshire has typically been in the top 10 of states with the most women in its Legislature, Walsh said.

"You are a state with a strong and rich history of women's leadership," she said.