Yesterday’s Post and Courier, the Charleston, South Carolina newspaper, has a piece on the gender gap in the state’s government. The author highlights the fact that South Carolina has only had four women elected to federal or statewide office and very few women are now serving in public office – this despite the fact that women make up 51.3% of the state’s population. According to the article, the Southeastern Institute for Women in Politics is trying to help promote women in public service.
That’s a fine idea, but they are going about it the wrong way. As a part of the Institute’s Gubernatorial Appointments Project, they are compiling a list of women to serve on the state’s boards or run agencies, and are seeking pledges from gubernatorial candidates in ten states (including South Carolina) to employ the talents of women in public office. The article goes on to point out that Nikki Haley, the only female candidate in this SC’s gubernatorial election, did not make the pledge to appoint more women to high level offices.
According to the Haley campaign spokesman, “Haley won’t make any pledges in reference to appointments, other than to promise that she will choose the highest qualified person for the job, regardless of race or gender.” Democratic opponent Vincent Sheheen commented, “I thought in a state that has a fairly woeful record of women in political office that it was important to reaffirm that commitment. My campaign is about bringing people together, and that includes women and men and African-Americans and white people.” Green Party and United Citizens Party candidate Morgan Bruce Reeves took the pledge, too. “I am going to employ 45 percent women and 45 percent men, and the other 10 percent at my discretion,” he noted, adding that he was serious about diversity.
Haley’s nomination as a gubernatorial candidate in itself demonstrates that women are advancing in South Carolina’s public life, and she made the right move to not take the pledge. Women can have a meaningful contribution based on their qualifications and ability to win on the issues. Demanding a pledge by the Governor to appoint women cheapens the process of vetting and appointing someone to public office. The Governor should appoint a woman because she is the best person to handle the duties before them and works well within the administration–not because she was just the best woman on the list.
When men are appointed, they must serve the interests of the people – man, woman, child – to their fullest ability, and so too must women appointees. The bottom line is that we are best served when public servants do a good job at just that – public service. They shouldn’t be serving as a symbolic token of one group or another. The Southeastern Institute for Women in Politics may be doing good work as they compile a list of qualified women for appointments, but they go a step too far in demanding a pledge from candidates to appoint women to high-level office.