While the national news media has been promoting the 2014 election as “The Year of the Woman” in politics, it doesn’t appear to be the case in Inyo County.
When it comes to the Board of Supervisors, the county’s top political decision-making body, as of yesterday not a single woman has filed for the available seats in either District 1 or District 3, according to the County Clerk-Recorder’s Office.
And if none come forward by the respective filing deadlines of March 12 for District 1 and March 7 for District 3, the stage will be set for an all-male Board of Supervisors for the first time in more than 30 years.
Three men have made a move for the seat being vacated by 20-year veteran of the board, First District County Supervisor Linda Arcularius. David Tanksley, William Stoll and Dan Totheroh have turned in Petitions of Lieu of Filing Fees to qualify as candidates for First District Supervisor in the June 3 Primary Election. None of them have filed their official Declarations of Candidacy – due by 5 p.m. March 12.
As of Monday, only incumbent Rick Pucci had filed his Petition in Lieu of Filing Fees and his Declaration of Candidacy for the Third District Supervisor seat. Declarations of Candidacy for this position are due by 5 p.m. March 7.
While the deadline for Petitions in Lieu of Filing Fees passed on Feb. 20, prospective candidates can still can get on the ballot by paying the filing fees and filing Declarations of Candidacy by the deadline for that specific office (March 7 unless the incumbent is not running, in which case the deadline is extended to March 12).
Several women are on the ballot for other elected offices in Inyo County. In fact, there are four incumbents running for re-election to countywide offices including Clerk-Recorder, Auditor-Controller, Treasurer-Tax Collector and Public Administrator/Guardian. But it is the Board of Supervisors that is the governing body for the county, serving the function of both the local executive and legislative branches.
According to the latest Census done in 2010, women are half the population of the county. Unless a female political hopeful comes forward in the next week, a woman has no chance of serving on the board for at least the next two years.
Three women and two men served on the Board of Supervisors from 2010-12, the most women that have ever served at one time. Prior to the appointment of Arcularius in 1993, only two other women had ever served in the long history of the board – which dates back to the founding of Inyo County in 1866.
Wilma Muth, the first woman, was elected to represent the Third District on Nov. 2, 1974 and reelected on Nov. 7, 1978. Julie Bear was elected from District 2 on June 2, 1992 and reelected in 1996 and 2000.
The string of women serving on the Board of Supervisors that began with Bear in 1992 and the appointment of Arcularius in 1993 continued with the election of District 2 Supervisor Susan Cash on March 2, 2004, and her reelection on June 3, 2008. Beverly Brown was elected on Nov. 7, 2006 from District 3 and served one term. By 2011, two women – Cash and Arcularius – remained on the board. By 2013, only Arcularius remained.
An observer of local politics noted that it looks like 2015 will signal a return of the county’s Board of Supervisors to the white male bastion that it has been for most of its long history.
The phrase “The Year of the Women” was first used extensively in the 1992 national election when a record number of women ran for and were elected to political office, but the optimism and predictions made for increased numbers of women in politics and changes in the direction of government policy proved to be grossly overstated. The number and percentage of women in legislative political offices has been declining slightly in recent years, not increasing.
Why the decline?
“I have no insights for you,” said former Supervisor Cash. “I’ve never been one to think in terms of ratios of gender, ethnicity, age, or any other characteristic as being good or bad for a profession or position.”
Arcularius is similarly gender blind. “I vote for the best person for the job regardless of whether it is a man or a women. Gender just does not enter into it for me as voting preference,” the outgoing First District Supervisor said.
Not everyone agrees with Cash and Arcularius. Betty Denton is one of the pioneering women politicians of Inyo County. Denton replaced Wilma Muth as a Bishop councilwoman in 1974 and served two terms. She had very definite thoughts on women in politics.
“Women should definitely run. We think differently from men and all governing bodies should ideally have equal parts men and women. Women are more effective, stick to the issues and reason in a straightforward way.”
Denton went on to say that she did not run for county supervisor after serving on the City Council because she became tired of wishy-washy thinking and too much talk without enough organized thought before coming to a decision. “You can always change the position or action,” she said.
Muth is almost 89 years old. The first woman to serve on the Bishop City Council and the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, she shared a childhood story of how she had been complaining that “because I was a girl I couldn’t do this or that.” Her father heard her and told her “to stop complaining” and “to stop hiding behind your skirt.” She said her husband was one in a billion and was always completely supportive of her running for elected office.
Muth’s love of politics and government came from the time her father worked in the War Department in Washington, D.C. She would skip school to go watch Congress in session at a time when only boys could be pages. She still enjoys watching. And while “not a feminist,” she said she feels that, “if you have the desire and the will, you can succeed as well as any man in politics.”
Current Bishop Councilwoman Laura Smith, one of two women on the council, sounded a note of optimism in her offering her theory about the lack of female supervisor candidates.
“It seems to have a cyclic tendency just as many other matters that involve people,” Smith said. “What I do know is that it has spurred a greater sense of responsibility in me to encourage and mentor more woman to step up and serve the communities they love. If Linda (Arcularius) and I, as well as other women in elected positions, will work at passing on our passion for serving, maybe we can help turn around the current downward trend.”
School Arts Coordinator Liz McAteer with the Inyo Council for the Arts wondered whether women in Inyo County can relate to the issues being tackled at the Board of Supervisors level.
“In short, I think that one reason why there aren’t any women running for open seats in Inyo County might be due to the geographic and economic make-up of Inyo County,” McAteer said. “Because of Inyo’s ‘rural’ surroundings and large ranching/DPW holdings, the vast issues that many local governments in more suburban areas face of parks and recreation for youth, public transportation, or quality of neighboring school districts, are not the issues that the women in Inyo County – particularly mothers raising children and running their family’s home – are facing.”
Clerk-Recorder Kammi Foote indicated it is more difficult for women with families to run for public office, and almost impossible if they don’t have a good support network.
“I believe that traditionally women have been viewed as the caregivers of the family and running for and holding public office is a very large time commitment,” Foote said. “However, customary family roles have been slowly changing over the years. I know for me personally, I would not be able to give sufficient time and dedication to serve in this capacity if my husband was not there to support and care for our family.”
Footes’ comments were mirrored by other women such as Bishop businesswoman Lis Mazzu:
“I would love to run for public office and I am confident my husband would be 100 percent supportive. But with three young children at home, the demands of being a parent, and working to manage three McDonald’s restaurants leaves me with very little time to consider elected office.”
Lone Pine businesswoman Jaque Hickman had this to say:
“I wonder about that phenomenon and I think some of it has to do with the rotation and just how it happens. Three new men were elected last time, leaving only Linda Arcularius’ seat likely to change − and no woman has come forth. Tillemans, Kingsley and Griffiths will likely run again and it is not likely that they will be unseated, so it may be at least six years until a woman is in the running. But take heart in the fact that there are women in the county-elected positions like Amy Shepard, Alisha McMurtrie and Kammi Foote.”
According to those interviewed, while support from family, spouses and other women in politics is needed, perhaps most critical of all is gaining the self-confidence needed to run for elected office – and then, just doing it.