What gives, New Jersey? With women heading three local universities (including Princeton) and filling a quarter of all judgeships in the state's courts, the Garden State outpaces plenty of other states in women's achievement. New Jersey also has a high percentage of college-educated women and ranks 11th nationwide in the number of businesses owned by women. What's more, women hold three of the seven total justice seats on the state's Supreme Court, according to the Associated Press. So why does the state rank 31st nationwide in electing women to state and federal offices?
Apparently it's for lack of strong female candidates. Linda Stender, a Democratic candidate for a House seat, told the AP: "We just don't have any." But it isn't that those capable women don't exist -- they just aren't being politically groomed. "You don't play golf or drink beer with a woman," former Gov. Christie Whitman, told the AP. "You tend to gravitate toward people who look like you." Each of the Garden State's 21 counties has both Democratic and Republican municipal committees that select candidates. Jeanne Jameson, president of Business and Professional Women of New Jersey, pointed to "that old boy network" as preventing women from being elected.
Still, not all female politicians have been stymied by the glass ceiling of state politics. Stender, now the strongest of three female candidates running for House seats in the state this year, says she only won her way into politics because "the powers that be didn't see it as a year that any Democrats could win." Also not to be underestimated is the power female politicians have to pull up other women through the ranks; Stender was preoccupied with raising her family when then Mayor Pat Kuran persuaded her to enter into politics.
It's nice to see this story used to highlight the ways local female politicians are encouraging other women to run for office, and not just as an opportunity to play up the usual usual catfight rhetoric. As Robin Berg Tabakin, president of the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners, told the AP, "Many women have joined together to support other women, regardless of party."