Wilkins, Use Your Clout for a Woman as Next Speaker
Virginian Pilot, 23 June 2002: J1.
Vance Wilkins resigned as Speaker of the House of Delegates earlier
this month, he tried to excuse his misconduct by pleading ignorance of
ordinary standards of decent behavior. He argued that, in some past
time, it was okay for men in power to force unwanted sexual advances on
No one bought the
argument, although too many tried to equate his behavior to
unacceptable but less serious forms of harassment or inappropriate but
nonetheless consensual behavior by other persons in leadership
Now that he has done
the right thing by resigning, it is time for Wilkins to show real
leadership in seeking to change forever the society in which sexual
harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence continue to plague our
workplaces, homes, schools and communities.
Wilkins can lead by
putting his substantial political capital and money to work on behalf
of Virginia women.
First, he can
advocate the election of a woman to replace him as Speaker. A number of
qualified Republican women serving in the House who could serve well as
comments about the Wilkins complainant, made by some long-serving
Republican members of the House, suggest that this may be a time when
traditional arguments in favor of electing the most senior, rather than
the most qualified, person might be less compelling.
The election of a
woman as the leader of the House of Delegates and the second most
powerful official in Virginia government (next to the Governor) would
do much to change the institution of the House itself. It would also
help set a new course for Virginia in which women, who make up half the
state’s population, actually hold the reins of power.
A woman speaker could
bring her unique perspective directly to bear on appointing committee
members and chairs, assigning legislation to committees, guiding budget
deliberations, and bringing to fruition Wilkins proposed strategic plan
for Virginia’s future.
Her election would
set the stage for Virginia to join other leading states in electing our
first woman governor, and enhance the prospects that greater numbers of
women, Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike, will be
encouraged to seek election to other state and local offices.
Why do we want more
women to run for political office and win? Virginia currently ranks
43rd in the nation in the number of women (15%) serving in our
And, a 1991 study by
the Center for the American Woman and Politics found that the increased
presence of women in state legislatures has an impact that is evident
regardless of the party, ideology, feminist identification,
constituency, seniority, age, or political insider status of the women
who are elected.
For example, the
study found that women legislators are more likely than their male
colleagues to give top priority to public policies related to their
traditional roles as care givers, issues dealing with children,
education, environment, aging, families, and health care.
Women legislators are
also more likely, in my experience, to make decisions by consensus– a
process that could help assure that we would never face another budget
impasse generated by ego-driven ultimatums.
In addition to
advocating the election of a woman to succeed him as speaker, Wilkins
can lead by contributing the roughly $170,000 left in his political
action committee, the Dominion Leadership Fund, to organizations
serving Virginia women and girls.
He can contribute
these funds to:
||Local Girl Scouts
organizations in his district that provide leadership and other
positive opportunities for young girls.
Foundation for Women to help endow either the Virginia Women’s
Leadership Project, a collaboration facilitating the appointment of
women to public positions; or the Women’s History Month project,
designed to educate children about women who have made important
contributions to Virginia.
Domestic Violence, a nonprofit coalition dedicated to the elimination
of domestic violence.
||The AAUW Legal
Advocacy Fund to support legal services for women and girls who are
victims of sexual harassment at Virginia schools and colleges.
||The Republican WISH
List, a national organization dedicated to electing more Republican
||Make Women Count PAC,
a statewide bi-partisan committee dedicated to electing more women to
the General Assembly, or other organizations dedicated to the election
of more women to state, local and federal offices.
||Or he can fund sexual
harassment training for his colleagues in the House of Delegates.
All of these would be
worthwhile investments of Wilkins’ leadership funds that would leave a
positive legacy to the women and girls of Virginia.
If Wilkins acts on
even a few of these suggestions, something good could come out of all