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 this 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 our state.

Overall, South Carolina has elected few women to national political office, and S.C. voters have never sent a woman to represent them in the U.S. Senate. In 1986, Elizabeth Patterson was elected in her own right to the U.S. House of Representatives, where 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 between 1938 and 1962 to fill their husbands’ seats. For the next 26 years, our state’s delegation to the U.S. Congress was exclusively male. That changed with Nancy Mace.   

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.

In 2020, South Carolina ranked 45th among the 50 state legislatures in the number of women elected to political office.

Five women – Mia McLeod, Margie Bright Matthews, Sandy Senn, Katrina Shealy, and Penry Gustafson — currently serve in the S.C. Senate, the most ever, while 25 women serve in the S.C. House. That’s just 17.6 percent of the legislature, although women make up 51.5 percent of the state’s population. By contrast, Nevada ranks first in the percentage of female legislators with 50.8 percent.

Nationally, a record number of women ran for office in 2020, with 60 candidates for U.S. Senate and 583 candidates for U.S. House. A record number won nomination for their state legislatures and a record number won seats in Congress. 143 women now serve in the 117th Congress, including 52 women of color. There were 127 women in the previous Congress.

Still, in 2021-2022, women will make up less than 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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