Pelosi will face test as new House speaker, but not entirely because of her gender, professors say

Thursday, November 16, 2006
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U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will make history in January if she is selected as the next speaker of the House of Representatives, which is likely after the Democrats gained control of the House following last week's midterm elections. Pelosi would be the first woman to hold the position.

The director of the University of North Texas Women's Studies Program says that if she is confirmed as speaker, Pelosi's reputation as a consensus builder will be put to the test, but challenges because of her gender will be overshadowed by other challenges.

"She faces polarity even in her own party," says Dr. Sandra Spencer. "She is saying all the right things to both parties and to the American people. She has established a good track record pushing concerns for Congressional ethics, a concern shared by many Americans, and she has vowed to emphasize high ethical standards for the incoming Congress."

Dr. Elizabeth Oldmixon, UNT assistant professor of political science, agrees.

"Governing presents a difficult and entirely new challenge. The Democrats took the House by running moderate candidates who could win in traditionally red districts. In order to govern effectively, the presumptive Speaker will have to build consensus among an ideologically diverse Caucus whose members will often have every incentive to vote against the party," she says.

Spencer pointed out that 1992 was historically heralded as "The Year of the Woman" because three women were elected to the US Senate and 19 women claimed seats in the House, almost doubling their numbers in both chambers.

"But in a sense, 1992 pales in comparison to the women's political gains in the 2006 election," she says, pointing out that if Pelosi is speaker of the House, "she will be closer than any woman has ever come to occupying the Oval Office - second in the line of succession to the presidency."

"In Pelosi's own words, ‘If you can break the marble ceiling in the Capitol of the United States, most anything is possible.' The ‘marble ceiling' indeed has been a more challenging obstacle for American women than the glass ceiling," Spencer says.

She adds that although Pelosi's achievement is an important one, other women made impressive political gains in this week's election.

"The Senate will now have 16 female senators, an all-time high. The current total reveals a gain of four women in the House thus far. And women gained one gubernatorial position as well, once again raising the total to nine female governorships. While these numbers do not exceed the gains made in 1992, the importance of Pelosi's position must be factored into the final numbers," she says. "More women are running in and winning important political races. More importantly, the American people seem to be accepting them in greater numbers as well."

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