Fill The Pipeline
Since our founding in 2019, SC WIL has been working to Fill the Pipeline of political candidates by encouraging and helping more women run for public office. Despite the coronavirus pandemic and its attendant economic and social problems, 2020 turned out to be a prosperous year for South Carolina women in politics.
A total of 302 women won election or re-election in South Carolina in 2020, meaning that over half of the women who ran for office during that election cycle were victorious. Landmark winners included Kristin Graziano, elected the first woman sheriff in South Carolina (Charleston County), and Nancy Mace, the first Republican woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the Palmetto State.
But according to the Center for American Women and Politics, overall, South Carolina ranks a dismal 46th among the 50 states in the number of women in elected office.
Statewide Elected Executive Positions
Lieutenant Governor: Female
S.C. State Senate
Total Senators: 46
Total Women: 5
S.C. House of Representatives
Total Members: 124
Total Women: 25
Percentage of women in the SC Legislature: 17.6%
Women, then, hold just 17.6 percent of seats in our state legislature. Nationally, the proportion of women currently serving in state legislatures is 26.20 percent. Nevada ranks first in the percentage of female legislators with 50.8 percent.
In terms of statewide elective office, South Carolina also ranks low. Only nine S.C. women have ever held a statewide office, beginning with Nancy Stevenson, who served as lieutenant governor from 1979-1982. Currently, Pamela Evette serves as lieutenant governor, the first candidate to be elected (in 2018) on the same ticket as the governor. Nikki Haley was elected South Carolina’s first female governor in 2010, becoming the first woman of color to hold a governorship in the United States. She was re-elected in 2014.
South Carolina also ranks low in terms of electing women to national office. S.C. voters have never sent a woman to represent them in the U.S. Senate. And it wasn’t until 1986 that a woman, Elizabeth Patterson, was elected in her own right to represent South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives. She served until 1994. The four women preceding her – Corinne Boyd Riley, Willa Lybrand Fulmer, Clara Gooding McMillan, and Elizabeth H. Gasque – won special elections in the U.S. House between 1938 and 1962 to fill their husbands’ seats. For the next quarter of a century, our state’s delegation to the U.S. Congress was exclusively male.
Nationally, though, a record number of women ran for office in 2020, with 60 candidates for the U.S. Senate and 583 candidates for the U.S. House. A record number were nominated for their state legislatures and a record number won seats in Congress. 145 women now serve in the 117th Congress (24 in the Senate and 121 in the House). This includes 52, or 35.8%, who are women of color. Women of color constitute 9.7 percent of the current Congress.
Still, in 2021-2022, women will make up just 27 percent of the voting membership of Congress. According to the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of Americans believe too few women serve in higher political offices.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, money, mentoring, and discrimination are some of the current barriers to filling this pipeline with more women. What can help? Women’s desire for public service, access to campaign training, and the support of women’s organizations.
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