Oklahoma gains five female lawmakers

Tuesday, December 28th 2004, 6:05 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma will gain five more female legislators when the season starts in 2005.

With the additional women, Oklahoma will have a total of 22 women in the state Legislature.

That figure represents 14.8% of the 149-member Legislature.

Despite the slight gain, the state still ranks near the bottom nationally in the number of female lawmakers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"Because of term limits, more women were running for the House than ever before, and that's a start," said Rep. Jari Askins, D-Duncan, who is the first woman to lead her party caucus in the House.

Askins had been slated to become the first female Speaker of the House if the Democrats retained power.

Republicans have named Rep. Susan Winchester, R-Chickasha, as speaker pro tempore for the upcoming session -- another first in the history of the Oklahoma House.

"I'm so excited and honored to be chosen by my colleagues for this position and for the great trust they have placed in me," Winchester said, when she was named for the job in November. She was traveling with her family and could not be reached for comment.

Askins said she was surprised that Oklahoma women are still marking milestones in the Legislature.

"I think as more women become involved in policy making decisions, we'll begin to see more women at the Capitol," she said.

Neighboring states have a higher percentage of female lawmakers than Oklahoma. Arkansas is the closest to Oklahoma with women holding 15.6 percent -- or 21 of its 135 legislative seats. Texas women represent 19.3 percent -- 35 of 181 seats -- in their state legislature.

Colorado has 34 out of 100 seats held by women, and Kansas women hold 32.1 percent -- or 53 of that state's 165 seats. Nearly 32 percent of New Mexico's 112 legislative seats are held by women.

Missouri's General Assembly has 21.3% -- or 42 of 197 seats held by women.

Askins said legislative schedules make it hard for women who are mothers to serve.

"I think that in Oklahoma women are making a commitment either before they have children or after their children are high school age to run for the Legislature," Askins said.

Most of the women serving in the Oklahoma Legislature are within a 45-minute drive from the Capitol in Oklahoma City, another factor in balancing a life as a wife, mother and lawmaker.

The Oklahoma's legislative session begins February 7.