Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Tip O’Neill first used the phrase “All politics is local” in 1932. It became a common phrase in U.S. politics after he rose to the speakership. O’Neill served in the House of Representatives for 34 years, beginning in 1952 and including 10 years as speaker.
He was obviously well liked by his Massachusetts constituents. Americans generally like their elected representatives. They might not like the other guy or gal’s representatives. Maybe that’s just human nature?
What’s happening in the United States now is that the other guy’s voting district is looking much different than it did 60 or certainly 100 years ago. And, there’s no turning back.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, there are about 308.75 million people living in the United States. The Asian population of about 14 million is about 4 percent; the black population of nearly 40 million is about 12 percent; the Hispanic population of over 50 million is about 16 percent; and the white population of over 200 million equals about 67 percent. All others come in at roughly 1 percent. Even more interesting is that the male population is 151,781,467, or 49.2 percent, and the female population is 156,964,212, or 50.8 percent. How do these numbers compare to the makeup of our elected representatives?
In 2014, the president is male and black (actually mixed race), the U.S. Senate has 100 members — 78 male, 22 female (one Asian, two black). The U.S. House of Representatives has 435 members — 356 male, 79 female. A hundred years ago, in 1914, women not only didn’t hold office, they couldn’t vote.
Have we come far enough as a nation where more than 50 percent of our population has just over 18 percent out of 535 (Senate 100 and House 435) seats in Congress?
I began this column with the premise that “All politics is local.” So what about Nevada County? In 2012, the Nevada County population was 98,764. Of that 86.2 percent were white, 0.5 percent black, 1.3 percent Asian, 8.9 percent Hispanic and comprised of 49,929 female and 48,835 male. There are five white males on the board of supervisors and no females. In addition, our state senator is a white male, our state assemblyman is a white male and our U.S. congressman is also a white male. I’m a white male also, so I don’t mean to disparage white males. But I do find it somewhat odd that almost 100 years after women fought for and won the right to vote, that there are so few women elected officials — not to mention how few “people of color” are elected to public service.
Several months ago I wrote about gerrymandering our voting districts as a means to secure one political party or another as dominant for the purpose of electing Congressional representatives. California avoided that problem by creating a bipartisan panel to “draw up” voting districts. That’s not the case in most of the rest of our country. The mid-term elections in 2014 won’t see much deviation from the current make-up of elected representatives in our country. However, there could be at least one significant change — women being elected.
If women truly want their voices heard, they will vote for many women candidates. However, in 2010, California voters rejected two major women candidates — Meg Whitman ran for governor against Jerry Brown and Carly Fiorina ran for U.S. senator against female incumbent Barbara Boxer that same year. Both Whitman and Fiorina lost, not because they were women but because the other candidates — one a well-known male and the other a very popular female incumbent — were far superior choices.
Women might not always vote for women just because they are women. They, too, must represent not just women but the whole electorate. Women voters might not agree on every policy issue, but a woman’s right to choose, equal pay for equal work, gun safety, education, nutrition, clean air and water are issues women tend to support.
If men want women to vote for them, they, too, had best pay attention to women’s issues. When women are given the choice of voting for a man who opposes many, if not all, of the issues above or a woman who supports many, if not all, of these issues, where do you think the majority of our population (women) will cast their ballots?
Jim Firth lives in Grass Valley.