Women make big gains in state capitols, but men still rule
By DAVID A. LIEB
Sunday, January 27
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Following a record-setting election for women, state legislatures across the country are convening this year with at least 17 new women in top leadership roles.
But those gains are offset by another reality: At least a dozen women who led their legislative chambers or caucuses last year will no longer be doing so because of term-limits and decisions to seek higher office or retire.
The bottom line is that women made only modest gains in legislative leadership positions despite the wave of successful female candidates last November.
They will hold at least 34 of the 195 top spots in House and Senate chambers across the country this year, with two spots in the Alaska House still undecided, according to a review by The Associated Press. That’s up slightly from 30 top leadership positions last year.
“The first sort of instinct to hearing that number is, ‘Oh, how disappointing,’” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “But it just totally makes sense, given how people obtain those leadership positions. It’s a process, and it’s not going to turn around in one election cycle with a bunch of new folks at the table.”
Women won election in record numbers to Congress, governorships and state legislatures last November. The gains came largely from Democrats, as the ranks of Republican female lawmakers declined in states. The surge was propelled partly by opposition to President Donald Trump as well as the #MeToo movement, which drew attention to sexual harassment of women by men in positions of power.
With most state legislative sessions starting this month, the AP tracked the lawmakers chosen by colleagues for the top Democratic and Republican positions in each chamber. In most states, that’s the speaker and minority leader in the House or Assembly, and the Senate president and minority leader in the upper chamber.
Women comprise a little over 50 percent of the U.S. population and hold an historical high of 28.6 percent of state legislative seats, up from 25.4 percent last year, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Yet even with those gains, women hold less than 18 percent of the top legislative leadership spots.
“We are constantly fighting up against the history of having older white men in these positions,” said Missouri House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a 33-year-old social worker chosen for the top Democratic spot this session after serving just two years in the House.
Missouri, despite a below-average number of women in the Legislature, is one of just seven states where women hold at least two of the four top-ranking leadership spots. The others are Arizona, California, Iowa, Maine, Oklahoma and Vermont.
Although Oklahoma had a female governor for the past eight years, it had ranked behind only Wyoming in its percentage of female lawmakers. But the state notched the nation’s largest percentage increase this year, and Democrats chose women to lead both the House and Senate minorities.
Oklahoma’s rise in female lawmakers came after a teacher walkout last spring, when thousands of educators and their supporters flooded the Capitol for two weeks of protests over school funding. The protests coincided with Oklahoma’s candidate filing period, prompting dozens of teachers to run for office, many of whom won.
“When things get like they are in Oklahoma, with health indicators being so low, education funding being low, teacher pay being low, and then you combine that with something like the teacher walkout in a mostly female-dominated profession, it was sort of the perfect storm to get more women involved in politics,” said Rep. Emily Virgin, who was chosen by Democratic colleagues as the new minority leader.
Virgin, a 32-year-old attorney, already ranks high in seniority in the term-limited Oklahoma House, where she has served since 2011.
Greater numbers have not necessarily translated to greater political power for women.
Democratic-led Nevada will become the first state with a female majority in the Legislature when the session begins in February. Yet the top leaders of each party in both chambers will be men.
In Republican-led Georgia, Democratic women gained a total of 13 seats in the House and Senate while the number of Republican women remained flat in the Senate and fell by three in the House.
Republican state Sen. Renee Unterman was recently removed as chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee and replaced by a man. She said the Senate was playing “high stakes baseball” and that women were being left out of the game.
Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who is part of an all-male GOP leadership panel that makes committee assignments, noted that the total number of female committee leaders doubled from two to four this year. But Unterman pointed out that all four female chairs are in committees that get relatively low levels of legislation.
California Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, a Republican who is the chamber’s new minority leader, said it’s important to have female leaders because they bring a different perspective to the legislative process than men. She cited a stronger focus on family issues such as child-care for single parents and pay equity.
Earlier this month, several Democratic female lawmakers introduced legislation that would allow California candidates and lawmakers to use campaign money to cover child-care expenses. Many mothers wait to run for office until their children are grown or don’t run at all because they’re worried about juggling responsibilities, several female lawmakers said.
“Sometimes to fight for change you need a little help changing the diaper,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, whose daughter was 6 months old when she launched her campaign. She won her seat in November.
Even though California has women in three of its top four legislative posts, Waldron said there is plenty of history to overcome. California has had 4,278 male lawmakers since gaining statehood in 1850, and just 165 female lawmakers.
Once women gain leadership positions, it can help encourage others to follow in their footsteps, said Vermont House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, a Democrat. The Vermont House speaker and minority leader and Senate majority leader also are women.
“For me, I see it so much when we have young women visiting the building and they notice it right away,” Krowinski said. “And I think it’s important for them to see that there are role models out there and that women can be in these roles.”
The Kansas City-based Women’s Foundation has launched a project in Kansas, Missouri and Arizona focused on increasing the number of women appointed to city, county and state boards and commissions. It’s a first step into politics that the nonprofit foundation, which promotes equity and opportunity for women, hopes eventually will lead to more women running for elected office and ascending to top leadership positions.
“We’ve come so far just to get them there in the legislature,” said Women’s Foundation President and CEO Wendy Doyle. “To move them into the leadership, it’s still needing to break through the barriers there. Men are supportive of men. There’s just the culture and an environment that still needs to be changed.”
Associated Press writers Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City, Ben Nadler in Atlanta, Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont, and Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, California, and contributed to this report.
Follow David A. Lieb at: http://twitter.com/DavidALieb
White House hopeful Kamala Harris says she can unify country
By JUANA SUMMERS
Sunday, January 27
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris says she’s the kind of leader who can unify the country and would fight for the needs of all Americans.
The first-term California senator, who announced her candidacy on Monday, planned a speech at a rally in Oakland, her hometown, later Sunday, as she outlines her campaign and introduces herself to the nation.
“I’m running for president because I love my country. I’m running to be a president by the people. Of the people. For all the people,” according to prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press.
The appearance at a plaza outside City hall was intended to portray her candidacy as the latest chapter in a lifetime of advocating for all people and to promote a message of unity. She began her career as a prosecutor in Oakland and later became California’s attorney general.
“My whole life, I’ve only had one client: The people,” Harris says in her prepared remarks, echoing the words she has used in courtrooms and has adopted as her campaign’s slogan.
Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, has drawn deeply from symbolism as she has rolled out her campaign.
She entered the race on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Campaign aides say she has drawn inspiration from Shirley Chisholm, who in 1972 became the first black woman to run for president from a major party.
If Harris were to win the White House, she would be the first African-American woman and first person of Asian descent to be president.
Her first news conference as a candidate was on the campus of Howard University, the historically black college in the nation’s capital that she attended as an undergraduate. On Friday, she was in South Carolina to speak to members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, of which she is a member.
Harris’ campaign is expected to highlight her career as a prosecutor as part of her rationale for seeking the presidency. Harris was the first black woman elected district attorney in California, as well as the first woman, first African-American and first Asian-American to hold that job. Some of her tenure as attorney general, particularly relating to criminal justice, has come under early scrutiny.
Harris is among the first major Democrats to jump into what is expected to be a crowded 2020 presidential contest.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have announced exploratory committees. Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Julian Castro, federal housing chief under President Barack Obama and a former San Antonio mayor, already are in the race.
Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bernie Sanders of Vermont may also run.
In her Oakland speech, Harris says she sees this year as an “inflection point” in American history and that she is best positioned to unite a divided country.
“Even though we have powerful forces trying to sow hate and division, the truth is that, as Americans, we have much more in common than what separates us,” according to her prepared remarks.
After the rally, Harris planned to her first trip to Iowa as a presidential candidate. In the weeks before last November’s elections, Harris traveled to the leadoff caucus state to campaign on behalf of Democrats, and also visited other early-voting states.
Harris’s campaign will be based in Baltimore and led by Juan Rodriguez who managed her 2016 Senate campaign. Aides say the campaign will have a second office in Oakland.
The lexicon of leaving: AP demystifies UK’s Brexit jargon
By The Associated Press
Monday, January 28
LONDON (AP) — From backstop to Brexiteer, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, now scheduled for March 29, has spawned a baffling array of new terms.
The AP deciphers some key words and phrases:
ARTICLE 50: Article 50 of the European Union’s key Lisbon Treaty sets out the procedure for a country wishing to leave the bloc and imposes a two-year countdown to that country’s departure. Britain triggered the process on March 29, 2017, meaning the U.K. will cease to be an EU member on March 29, 2019.
BACKSTOP — The Brexit backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement between the EU and Britain. It’s an insurance policy designed to ensure there are no customs checks or other border infrastructure between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit. The backstop says if no other solution is found, Britain will remain in a customs union with the EU in order to keep the Irish border open. Opposition to the backstop from pro-Brexit British lawmakers is a major hurdle to securing a divorce deal.
BREXIT — A contraction of “British exit,” Brexit is Britain’s departure from the European Union. The U.K. joined the bloc in 1973, and held a 2016 referendum on its membership that was won by the “leave” side.
BREXITER/BREXITEER — A supporter of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
BREXTREMIST — Pejorative term for a Brexit supporter.
BREXTENSION — Brexit extension, a delay to Britain’s exit from the EU. Some U.K. lawmakers advocate postponing Brexit so that Britain’s feuding politicians can agree on a way forward. A delay would require EU approval.
BRINO — Brexit in name only: a pejorative term for a “soft Brexit” departure in which Britain retains close economic and regulatory ties with the European Union.
CITIZENS’ ASSEMBLY — A gathering of people, chosen to represent the population as a whole, tasked with studying an important national issue and offering conclusions. Some politicians think it could be a way out of Britain’s Brexit impasse.
CUSTOMS UNION — The European Union customs union makes the 28-nation bloc a single customs territory, with no tariffs or border checks on goods moving between member states. It also has common tariffs on goods entering the bloc from the outside.
EUROPEAN UNION — Formed in 1957 as the European Economic Community by France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium and The Netherlands, the group is now a 28-nation bloc of more than 500 million people with substantial powers over member nations’ laws, economies and social policies.
HARD BREXIT — A Brexit that sees the U.K. cut many of its ties with the EU, including leaving the EU’s vast single market and customs union. Some supporters of the idea prefer the term “clean Brexit,” and say it will enable Britain to forge its own new trade deals around the world.
LEAVER — A Briton who voted to leave the European Union. See also Brexiteer.
NO-DEAL BREXIT — If Britain and the EU do not finalize a divorce deal, Britain will cease to be an EU member on March 29 without an agreement setting out what happens next. A no-deal Brexit would see the rules that govern ties between the U.K. and the EU end on a certain day. Many businesses say that would cause economic chaos.
REMAINER — A Briton who voted to stay in the European Union.
REMOANER, REMAINIAC — Pejorative terms for people who want the U.K. to remain in the EU.
SINGLE MARKET — The EU’s single market makes the bloc a common economic zone in which goods and services can move freely with no internal borders or barriers.
SOFT BREXIT — A Brexit that sees the U.K. retain its close economic ties with the EU, including membership in the bloc’s single market and customs union.
WITHDRAWAL AGREEMENT/POLITICAL DECLARATION — In November 2018, Britain and the EU struck a two-part divorce agreement. It consists of a legally binding, 585-page withdrawal agreement setting out the terms of the U.K.’s departure, and a shorter, non-binding political declaration committing the two parties to close future ties. The agreement must be approved by the British and European parliaments to take effect.
Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit
UK leader under new pressure to secure EU Brexit concessions
By JILL LAWLESS and DANICA KIRKA
Monday, January 28
LONDON (AP) — Pro-Brexit British lawmakers were mounting a campaign Monday to rescue Prime Minister Theresa May’s rejected European Union divorce deal in a parliamentary showdown, as major retailers warned the U.K. could face food shortages if it leaves the bloc without an agreement.
Lawmakers threw out May’s Brexit deal two weeks ago and will debate and vote Tuesday on competing plans for what to do next. Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, with or without a deal.
Businesses say a no-deal Brexit would cause economic chaos by eliminating trade agreements and imposing tariffs, customs checks and other barriers between the U.K. and the EU, its biggest trading partner.
Chief executives of fast-food company McDonald’s and supermarket chains Sainsbury’s and Waitrose were among signatories to a letter to lawmakers warning of “significant disruption” if the U.K. leaves without a deal, given that nearly a third of Britain’s food comes from the EU.
“While we have been working closely with our suppliers on contingency plans it is not possible to mitigate all the risks to our supply chains,” said the retailers, who urged lawmakers to avoid a no-deal departure.
“We anticipate significant risks to maintaining the choice, quality and durability of food that our customers have come to expect in our stores,” they added.
May says she wants a deal, and insists her agreement can still win parliament’s backing, if it is tweaked to alleviate concerns about a provision for the Irish border. The measure, known as the backstop, would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU in order to remove the need for checks along the frontier between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Britain leaves the bloc.
That border is crucial to the divorce deal because it will be the only land frontier between the U.K. and the EU after Brexit. Border checkpoints have disappeared since Ireland and Britain both became members of the EU single market in the 1990s, and the 1998 Good Friday peace accord largely ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland.
Opposition to the backstop by pro-Brexit lawmakers — who fear it will trap Britain in regulatory lockstep with the EU — helped sink May’s deal earlier this month. A new proposal submitted by Conservative legislator Graham Brady commits to backing May’s deal if the backstop is replaced by “alternative arrangements.”
Brady said if the motion was approved by Parliament, it would give May “enormous firepower” to go back to Brussels and renegotiate the Brexit divorce deal.
The government hopes to bring the deal back for a new vote in Parliament in February, with enough changes to reverse its thumping defeat on Jan. 15, when lawmakers rejected it by 432 votes to 202.
Some members of Parliament who voted against May’s deal the first time say they would support it if the Irish backstop was removed.
Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a leading Brexiteer, said the prime minister was trying to secure a “freedom clause” that would ensure Britain could get out of the backstop. In his weekly Daily Telegraph column, Johnson said May would have “the whole country full-throatedly behind her” if she secured such a change.
But EU leaders insist they will not change the legally binding Brexit withdrawal agreement.
“This withdrawal agreement has been agreed with the U.K. government, it is endorsed by leaders and is not open for renegotiation,” EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas said.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Sunday that Northern Ireland’s peace process depended on avoiding the return of a hard border.
“That won’t be easy, and those who misrepresent the backstop don’t have an alternative to it,” he said. “The EU has been clear that the backstop is an integral part of the withdrawal agreement.”
Brady’s backstop proposal is one of more than a dozen amendments proposed by U.K. lawmakers that aim to alter the course of Britain’s departure. Some others seek to rule out a no-deal Brexit so Britain can’t tumble out of the bloc on March 29 without an agreement in place to cushion the shock.
Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow will announce Tuesday which amendments have been selected for debate and vote.
Conservative lawmaker Nick Boles, who is backing an amendment designed to rule out a no-deal Brexit and seek a delay to Britain’s EU departure, said that Tuesday “is probably the only opportunity that Parliament is going to have to intervene in this process, to take control.”
“If we don’t seize the moment tomorrow afternoon, then we are at grave risk of just driving off the edge on March 29 without really wanting to and when there might be a compromise we could achieve, if we just had a few more months,” he told the BBC.
Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit