What do Nikki Haley, Joni Ernst, Mia Love, Susana Martinez, and Kelly Ayotte all have in common?

If you guessed being powerful women in (national) politics, you’re right. The Washington Post just released the first installment of its 40 Most Interesting Women in Politics.

While we don't want to see candidates elected on the basis of identity politics, and "gender balance" is less important than sound policies, we are always happy to see outstanding women highlighted.

The first installment of the Post's "40 most interesting" includes some prominent conservative women.

Meanwhile, another Washington Post article on women in politics reveals that elected women on the local level make up a higher percentage than women in Congress.

If you can put up with the Post's relentless emphasis on identity politics (women are increasingly entering local politics, but they still lag behind!), the article contains some interesting information. The Post reports:

Here's how those cities compare. Austin leads with 70 percent, followed by San Diego with 44 percent, Phoenix with 37.5 percent, New York with 37 percent and Dallas with 35 percent. Los Angeles's city council is 6 percent female, with one woman on its 15-member council.

As male-dominated as these city councils are, most of them are still more balanced than the U.S. Congress, where only 19 percent of members are women.

For those who'd like to see more women in higher office, it all starts at the local level. If politics were baseball, Congress and governor's offices would be the major leagues (and are the pools from which we almost always pick our presidents and vice presidents), and state and local governments would be the minors, with talented politicians making their way up from city halls and state houses to higher office.

For that reason, don't expect a dramatic rise in the number of women in Congress anytime soon. Nationally, women make up less than one in four state legislators and only 60 of the 335 state legislative leaders across the country are women. The states with the most gender diversity in their state legislatures, Colorado and Vermont, are each 41 percent female. On the other end of the spectrum, there are three state Senates — in West Virginia, Wyoming and South Carolina — that have just one female member.

Just for the record, as reported earlier today on the blog, Austin’s City Council is anything but male-dominated. The Council has seven women and four men.

School boards, city councils and local government are starting points for careers in politics and are considered the farm team for a career in state or national politics. Local offices allow fledgling politicians to gain confidence and management skills, while building networks and burnishing credentials. Women who attain these local offices are often training for jobs at a higher level. If you want to see more women holding top national offices, the increasing number in lower level offices indicates that that is almost inevitable.

Focusing on the gender of elected officials is a way to avoid looking at their real qualifications, however. Margaret Thatcher, one of the great prime ministers in the long history of her nation, always brushed aside talk of her gender. The Post’s numbers are interesting but not nearly so important as the qualities of the candidates. At this point in history, we can predict that gender will take care of itself. Bad policies won’t.