In the quiet time before the legislature, let me address an issue that has recently bubbled up.
A few commenters have suggested that I did not adequately herald the arrival of a woman into the office of Senate president. Debbie Barrett was two weeks ago chosen to fill this post, making her the first woman in Montana to take the job.
Barrett has served in a GOP leadership role before. Indeed last session, former Senate President Jeff Essmann put out a press release (screenshot) touting state Sen. Debby Barrett as being the first woman to serve as first “Speaker Pro Tem” of the Montana Senate.
But alas, it turned out the legislative branch’s own website shows that the first woman served as Speaker Pro Tem in Montana 20 years ago – when a woman named Marian Hanson held the post. So Essmann had to issue an embarrassing correction. In it, Essmann called Barrett, who has a zero percent voting record with Montana’s leading women’s issue advocates, “a trailblazer for women legislators everywhere.”
If by trailblazer, Essmann means following trails that lead back to a cave in the dark ages for a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound, then Debby Barrett certainly deserves the highest honor.
So achieving the milestone is a victory for Barrett, yes. But it is not anything close to a victory for women because she is a backward, angry conservative and the antithesis of a feminist. She has a history of voting against women’s rights and issues, including reproductive autonomy, the right not to be discriminated against by insurance companies, the right to safely enter a medical clinic, the right to medically accurate sex education, education, help for seniors and food for hungry kids, and many other issues important to feminists.
And I am sorry to inform my conservative readers, but Barrett’s selection is to a large extent tokenism, carried out by a party that is almost exclusively white guys who are perennially humiliated in the way they talk about women, how they vote on issues important to women, and the way that their party fails to include women in public service. I would encourage you, for example, to count up the number of women statewide candidates from both parties in the last decade. It is shocking, but the GOP’s total–including every primary and every general election for Governor, AG, Securities and Insurance Commissioner, Secretary of State and Superintendent of Schools–can be counted on less than one hand, whereas dozens of women candidacies (and incumbents such as Angela McClean) have been successful on the democratic side. And the proportion of female legislators with an R after their names is equally dismal.
Barrett’s selection is akin to the appointment of Michael Steele, the African American, by the Republicans to be RNC chairman, or the touting by the party of other black people like Ben Carson or Allen West. These are public showings put on by the Republicans, on the theory that a minstrel show can suffice to address concerns that the party is racist.
Such motivation is, not if not fully, then largely behind the election of Ms. Barrett. After years of crusty men giving speeches during the legislature about women’s issues, bleating that birth control is for sluts, that women are like cattle or that pregnancy should not be covered by health insurance, something drastic needed to be done by the GOP. And Barrett was the answer. But she is not a champion for women, and I will be proven right again and again once the session starts.