Quota: The number or amount constituting a proportional share; a fixed number or percentage of minority group members or women needed to meet the requirements of affirmative action. – Merriam Webster Dictionary
In the sea of humanity called the state Legislature, whitecaps were everywhere during the governor’s State of the State address.
In the “people’s house,” as the House of Representatives is called, state senators sat in the aisles alongside their House colleagues.
Overwhelmingly male by sex, with white and graying heads the dominant color, it was apparent that the middle-aged and older were well represented.
Nary a quota could be found anywhere; nor will you see it recommended here.
Nevertheless, gender, as well as race, has been a byword in American politics for generations now. Yet in South Dakota, certain trends continue. At the Statehouse, Republicans hold sway, with just 16 Democrats, total, in the House and Senate. The breakdown for this session: House: 60 Republicans, 10 Democrats. Senate: 29 Republicans, 6 Democrats.
Perhaps this is why South Dakota Pubic Television interviewed three Democrats and only one Republican following the governor’s address, as its way to bring balance to the picture.
In gender, the ratio is just as lopsided: House: 15 females; Senate: 5 females.
This also shows, however, that the GOP enjoys a heavy majority among women, as well as most other demographic groups, with the exception of American Indians. Of the 20 females in the Legislature, only three are Democrats.
There was a time when farmers and lawyers dominated the Legislature. Today, there are five attorneys in the House and two in the Senate. Farmers and ranchers account for 14 seats in the House and five in the Senate.
Jon Schaff, political science professor at Northern State University, points to fewer and fewer farmers in South Dakota – reflecting the ongoing consolidation of farms – as one reason for the lower numbers in the Legislature.
The very nature of a part-time Legislature, where members are paid $6,000 a year — plus travel, room and board — is a key reason why most men and women do not run. They are too busy earning a living.
The lower number of females may indicate a high percentage of working moms, either at jobs outside the home, or in the home. In either case, a 38-day session, plus year-round constituent service, would be nearly impossible.
The fact that the Legislature doesn’t reflect the state from a demographic standpoint probably explains why some ballot initiative outcomes are different from legislative actions. That won’t change anytime soon, and neither will the prominence of older white guys.
Jan. 25, 2017