The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

June 24, 2014

Equity law will help Iowa break glass ceiling

Only two states have failed to elect a woman to either the governor’s mansion or the U.S. Congress: Iowa and Mississippi. It’s not a statistic that Iowans should be proud of.

Iowa, however, also is the only state in the nation to require gender balance on boards and commissions at every level of government — state, county and local. And for that, Iowans should be proud.

Two years ago, legislation went into effect designed to keep Iowans from being appointed or reappointed to a board or commission if their participation would result in more than 50 percent representation of their gender. The hope was to increase the number of qualified women serving on local, county and state boards and, thus, increase the number of qualified women who might be ready, willing and able to make the jump into elected office.

Non-compliance with the law, however, has no ramifications for cities and counties. And the law includes a practical exception for when a “political subdivision has made a good-faith effort to appoint a qualified person to fill a vacancy on a board, commission, committee or council in compliance with for a period of three months but has been unable to make a compliant appointment.”

As a result, very few counties and cities are achieving that equity target two years after the new legislation took effect.

According to a study by the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, Johnson County is just one of just four counties (out of 99) that have reached the equity benchmark. Coralville and Tiffin, likewise, are two of just 17 cities in Iowa (out of 200) that have the required gender balance on key boards and commissions. (Other local cities are very close to meeting that goal.)

The ISU study, which surveyed the makeup of nine key boards and commissions for more than 200 cities in Iowa, found that statewide, 37.1 percent of the seats were held by women, and 27.9 percent of them had female chairpersons.

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