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4 IMPACT ON THE ELECTION OF WOMEN One of the promised benefits of term limits was that they would increase the diversity of state legislatures. This claim was based on the belief that term limits would increase electoral opportunities for women and minorities by creating new open legislative seats. While the number of both women and minorities in state legislatures was increasing even before the advent of term limits (Connolly 1994), both groups remained severely underrepresented in comparison to their proportions in the general population. Term limits were promoted by their advocates as a way to correct this situation. One of the reasons often cited for the gap between the number of women in the general population and their legislative representation was the difficulty challengers faced in overcoming the “power of incumbency” (Darcy, Welch, and Clark 1994; Welch and Studlar 1996). Incumbents, with the advantages of greater name recognition, superior fundraising prowess, and more experience as candidates, have an overwhelming advantage over challengers and almost always are successful in their reelection efforts (Nixon and Darcy 1996). The normal tendency for incumbents, who were overwhelmingly nonminority males, to run for reelection and retain office was seen as a major obstacle to women and minorities obtaining legislative seats. Term limits supporters vigorously claimed that term limits had the potential to significantly 49 alter this situation by truncating the careers of incumbent male, nonminority legislators who would otherwise stand in the way of women and minorities seeking legislative office. This chapter provides a comprehensive examination of academic scholarship on the effect of term limits on female representation in state legislatures. An overview of current research that first hypothesized and later empirically studied the effects of term limits on the election of female candidates is reviewed. This is followed by an examination of data on the changes in the gender composition of state legislatures since the passage of term limits. Next, a comparison is provided of the changes in the gender makeup of the U.S. Congress with those found in state legislatures, both with and without term limits. This aggregate information is revealing, but to gain a more complete understanding of the potential role of term limits in the election of women, this chapter contains a case study of the California State Legislature’s experience with term limits. This particular emphasis on developments in California , for reasons already elaborated in chapter 1, shows how the changes in the number of women elected can be impacted by forces in the state other than term limits. In California , partisanship shifts seem to have exerted a greater influence than term limits on the electoral fortunes of women candidates. This chapter concludes with an examination of the influence of factors besides term limits that seem to have a greater impact on the election of women. PREDICTED IMPACT ON THE ELECTION OF WOMEN TO STATE LEGISLATURES As discussed in the preceding chapters, the formative debate on the desirability of term limits was primarily theoretical because of the absence of hard data from term-limited legislatures . Scholars could only make logical predictions based on examining patterns from non-term-limited legislative bodies and hypothesize if the turnover created by term limits would actually provide greater opportunities for women and minorities to increase their numbers in state legislatures 50 TERM LIMITS AND THEIR CONSEQUENCES (Darcy, Welch, and Clark 1994; Nixon and Darcy 1996). Thompson and Moncrief (1993) developed a projection of term limits’ impact on women and minorities that seemed to confirm that they would create an advantage (discussed in chapter 1). Some of the other early studies’ hypotheses were supported, in part, by examining career patterns in Congress and projecting them onto legislatures that could adopt term limits (Reed and Schansberg 1995). A study that used congressional career data indicated that if women followed similar patterns in state legislatures, term limits would disproportionately affect male rather than female elected officials and would help females. The model determined that female members of Congress were on average leaving office about two years earlier than men, so term limits would impact male members of Congress disproportionately more than female members. Consequently, limiting reelection would force males to leave office more frequently than females and create more opportunities for females. Advocates of term limits similarly claimed that term limits would increase the diversity of the state legislature by having women replace entrenched male incumbents who would be prohibited from seeking reelection (Niven 2006). They used these early projections as “evidence” to support term...


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