Women in politics: We’ve come a long way

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 28, 2016

Wouldn’t Jamima DeMarcus have appreciated this moment? DeMarcus was the first woman on the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, elected in 1982 and serving 12 years. Were she alive today, she surely would have cheered the first woman to win a national party’s nomination for president.

Hillary Clinton’s nomination by the Democratic Party is historic. And though no one should win office purely based on gender, the fact that women have worked their way into the highest levels of government reflects progress that was unimaginable when they themselves were school girls.

Salisbury native Elizabeth Hanford Dole put some cracks in the presidential glass ceiling. A Republican since 1975, she worked in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush I administrations and scored several firsts of her own, including the first woman appointed Secretary of Transportation.

Dole’s biggest star turn may have come when her husband, Sen. Bob Dole, ran for president in 1996. Giving the obligatory spouse’s talk at the Republican National Convention, Elizabeth stepped down from the stage and delivered her speech as though it were a casual conversation while walking among the delegates — from memory, without a Teleprompter. It was stunning, and people started asking the obvious question: Why doesn’t she run for president? She attempted to do just that in 1999, but no Republican had a chance in the primaries against the man destined to be Bush II. Dedicated to public service, Elizabeth Dole went on to win election as the first woman to serve as a U.S. senator representing North Carolina. The Doles still live in Washington.

The history of local women in politics could go on and on, and some of it is current. For instance, the two people from Rowan County attending the national political conventions this year are African-American women — Dr. Ada Fisher with the Republicans and Veleria Levy with the Democrats. That may be be a double “first.”

It only makes sense for women to get involved and exert themselves as “change makers,” as Bill Clinton called Hillary. DeMarcus said as much when she filed to run for the county commission.

“We are more than half the population, and women have learned that what happens in government from the local to national scene affects them and their families,” DeMarcus said. “People are looking for qualified candidates now, whether they’re male or female.”

Amen to that. May the best person win.