TWIN FALLS • Out of the 26 candidates running for Idaho’s top political positions in this election season, four are women.
It’s a disproportionate percentage that some say isn’t a problem but others use to point out that female candidates still face more challenges in their race to make it to the ballot.
“I have not found anyone who wants to run for higher offices,” said Billie Dingess, president of the Magic Valley Republican Women. “That’s a sad thing for women.”
Historically, women have only held three out of Idaho’s seven executive offices: state treasurer, superintendent for public instruction and state controller.
Only two races in this year’s May primary election have female candidates. Democratic candidate Deborah Silver of Twin Falls faces Lane Startin for state treasurer.
On the GOP side, Sherri Ybarra of Mountain Home is racing against three male candidates for superintendent of public instruction, John Enyon, Andrew Grover and Randy Jensen. Whoever wins will go up against Democratic challenger Jana Jones in the November general election. In the secretary of state general election, the GOP candidate will face Democrat Holli Woodings, who is currently a representative in the Idaho House.
According to Dingess, the problem is that politically active women tend to run in local races — such as county commissioner or city council — but stop at running for legislative positions or statewide elected offices.
“I think part of it is the mentality,” she said. “They don’t think higher.”
In contrast, Juliet Carlisle, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Idaho, said donors tend to back candidates most likely to win. This means incumbents, who are predominantly men in Idaho, have the upperhand in securing enough funding while running for Idaho’s political offices.
Voter surveys also shows that the public tends to choose the male candidate, Carlisle said.
“Incumbents tend to receive more money,” she said. “They also have name recognition, which is key to win in elections.”
For example, Democratic candidate Jana Jones ran against GOP incumbent Tom Luna for superintendent of public instruction in 2006, Jones raised just more than $105,000. Luna, on the other hand, raised more than $295,000.
The disparity in the numbers doesn’t necessarily mean donors give more to male candidate, though. Because Idaho is a predominantly Republican state, GOP candidates have an easier time convincing national donors to give to their campaign, said David Adler, director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy. Democratic candidates, male or female, have a harder time getting back from national donors because there is skepticism that they will win.
However, women candidates don’t always raise less than their male counterparts. In 2010, incumbent state Controller Donna Jones raised almost 10 times the amount of cash what her Democratic challenger, Bruce Robinette, was able to muster.
Because women still tend to be the primary caregiver, finding time raising a family and running for office can become impossible, Adler said
“I certainly hope sometime soon we’ll see a woman in the position of governor but it’s tough load for women to climb,” he said.
The lack of women in executive office isn’t a bad thing, said state Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome. Women have found a niche in winning powerful positions on a local level, she said. Women such as Dawn Soto have been influential on Jerome’s City Council, Bell said.
“I just don’t think it makes that much of a difference to have more women in office,” Bell said. “It’s a desire to do this over that.”
In 2009, state lawmakers voted to stop funding the Idaho Women’s Commission, which was founded in 1965 to increase women’s participation in political and economic progress. The 35-member commission was made up of primarily women.
Bell, a former commission member, said while there may have been a need for the group in the 1960s, groups like that have become outdated.
“I truly believe that women would run for office if they wanted to,” she said.