How Mentoring Led To The First All-Female Congressional Delegation

0102 nhCongress has been making headlines recently for being even more dysfunctional and deadlocked than usual, thanks to the “fiscal cliff” disaster just narrowly averted. This morning, Politico reported that House Speaker John Boehner walked up to the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, as negotiations began and said, “Go f— yourself.” How kind and professional! So it’s about time we got to read an upbeat story about the institution, and here’s a great one: The story of how New Hampshire produced the first all-female congressional delegation, which becomes official tomorrow. As one newly elected representative put it, “Pink is the new power color in New Hampshire.”

Back in November, New Hampshire voters did something pretty amazing. (I may be biased because I’m one of them.) We elected women to fill both of the states’ seats in the House of Representatives; women already held both Senate seats, and the governorship. That means the top five political offices, including the entire Congressional delegation, will all held by women.

That’s a first for any state. In fact, as the New York Times explains, six states have never elected a woman to the House, and four have never had a woman senator. When New Hampshire’s representatives and senators are sworn into office tomorrow, it will officially make history.

The Times has an insightful story about how exactly this came to be, and why New Hampshire has such a long history of women serving in prominent positions. It’s a story about mentoring, flex-time, and the development of a rich “pipeline” for women interested in politics.

First, the women’s families and workplaces were supportive. Representative Carol Shea-Porter wasn’t sure she should run because she has been caring for her sick mother. But instead, her mother said, “You better run.” Representative Ann McLane Kuster was allowed to work just four days a week at her law firm while she raised her children.

And New Hampshire is a particularly friendly state to women hoping to get started in politics. The state house is huge, giving many people a chance to get their foot in the door. It has 400 members, and women have made up at least 100 of them every year since 1975. This means Kuster’s mother was a mentor to senator Jeanne Shaheen. Shaheen in turn has mentored Kuster and other women. “There are lots of opportunities for women to pitch in, prove their competence and learn a lot about governing and the political process,” the new governor, Maggie Hassan, tells the paper. “We’ve had a very deep bench of women.”

Photo: NHPR

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