Yesterday was the 88th anniversary of the 19th Amendment's ratification, which gave women the right to vote. On August 18, 1920, by one vote, a young 24-year-old Tennessee legislator named Harry Burn had been voting with the anti-suffrage forces. At the urging of his mother, he switched sides and became the deciding vote that passed the amendment.
After surviving parliamentary maneuvers from the anti-suffrage forces, the 49-48 vote stood and made Tennessee the 36th and deciding state to ratify. On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution became the law of the land and gave women the right to vote just in time for the 1920 Presidential election.
The 19th Amendment fundamentally altered the political landscape. It not only led to the increasing influence of women in elections at all levels of government, it also led to women running for public office as well.
And I've been fortunate over my lifetime as a Texan, a Houstonian and a Louisville resident to have some outstanding women representing me at the local, state, and national level.
I can't start talking about the women who led me without starting with Rep. Barbara Jordan. She was the first African-American elected to the Texas state senate since Reconstruction. She followed that up with being elected to Congress in 1972 after the 18th Congressional District was created.
She was on the Judiciary Committee during the Watergate hearings and after her retirement from Congress in 1978 eventually became the ethics adviser to another one of the women who led me, Governor Ann Richards. We also didn't find out until after her death that she was the first gay person elected to those offices as well. It didn't matter. Barbara Jordan is such a revered figure in Houston politics the 18th Congressional District seat is still considered "Barbara's Seat."
Ann Richards was arguably the best governor we've ever had in the Lone Star State in my lifetime. She took over in 1990 after the out-going Republican governor left us a $6 billion deficit (sound familiar, Projectors?) and turned it into a $2 billion dollar surplus. In addition, during her term in the Texas governor's mansion for the first time in my lifetime state government at the top included ALL Texans.
Unfortunately we only had her for one term. She was followed by an inarticulate Alfred E. Neuman look alike who promptly wiped out the surplus in less than a year and took our state in a non-progressive direction..
I had the pleasure of casting my first mayoral race ballot in 1981 for Kathy Whitmire, who became Houston's first woman mayor and held that seat for a decade. She had some milestone accomplishments during her time as Houston mayor including appointing our first female and African-American police chiefs and getting an ordinance passed that protected GL people in employment. Unfortunately it was subsequently repealed in a nasty 1985 referendum fight and almost cost her reelection and the councilmembers who voted for it reelection. .
I've also had the pleasure of watching Annise Parker's rise in Houston politics as well. She was the first openly gay person elected to a citywide Houston council seat and is currently Houston's city controller. She's considered a serious candidate to become Houston's next mayor in 2009.
There are others not only at home but nationally as well. My Metro Council rep in Louisville is Tina Ward-Pugh, who is an open lesbian doing a fantastic job representing this district and whose name is also mentioned as a a possible candidate for Louisville mayor.
Yes, the 19th Amendment had far reaching effects on politics in this country. It's not unusual to see women not only voting, but leading in various capacities up to being the Speaker of the House. It was also cool to see women running for office at all levels, including the presidency of the United States. It's nice to see transwomen taking that next evolutionary step to run for and win public office as well.
And that's a good thing for all Americans no matter what their gender is.