Women need a breakout role in state government

Same-sex couples can marry in Iowa, but haven’t shared a gubernatorial ticket in years.

Iowa is defaulting to male-female election day partners — if the individuals rumored as recently tapped by Democratic candidate Jack Hatch and previously by Republican incumbent Terry Branstad are any indication.

In Iowa, the only power held by the lieutenant governor’s office is what the governor’s office allows. There are no duties or requirements for the lieutenant governor in the Iowa Code, and the Iowa Constitution mandates the office holder to perform duties as assigned by the governor. The primary responsibility of Iowa’s lieutenant governor is to complete the term of the governor if he vacates office, which has happened four times in state history (once when Gov. William Beardsley died while in and three times when current governors were elected to the U.S. Senate).

Before the late 1980s, when the Constitution was changed so that the governor and lieutenant governor were elected as a team, the lieutenant governor presided over the Iowa Senate and held distinct powers separate from the governor.

Despite the work of the women who have recently held the post — Joy Corning, Patty Judge, Sally Pederson and Kim Reynolds — to elevate and expand (at least historically) the emphasis of the position, the lieutenant governor remains largely an ambassador office for the state (if not the occupant’s political party) and a comfortable landing for a token woman.

Tokenism is defined as “the practice or policy of making no more than a token effort or gesture” or as a “policy that demonstrates only minimal compliance with rules, laws or public pleasure.”

While we have women’s groups working throughout the state to recruit, train and promote women seeking public office, we continue to have very little buy-in to the idea of gender equity by the dominant political parties. And, when the topic is discussed, the parties are often quick to point to their past, present and possibly future lieutenant governor candidates as evidence that women can and do rise within their ranks.

Signs of tokenism:

1. Staying silent on specific opinions or criticisms or conforming to uncomfortable behaviors due to a lack of faith in the organization’s or leaders’ tolerance.

2. Being assigned responsibilities based on stereotypes.

3. Responding to a crisis or issue to which the organization or leaders would benefit from the token perspective or appearance.

4. Operating as part of a minority, even if your gender’s or race’s population is not generally.

Each of the women who have served as lieutenant governor have worked in leadership roles appropriate to their gender such as advocacy on children’s issues or health. With the lone exception of Patty Judge, who was asked to lead the Iowa Department of Homeland Security, female lieutenant governors have been largely absent on topics considered traditionally male.

When did it become de facto policy for only women to be considered for lieutenant governor of Iowa? Probably about the same time the dominant political parties combined the powerlessness of the office and a growing public sentiment for at least the appearance of gender equity in government.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on June 21, 2014.