Local Politics

Girls club: Women hold six of 10 statewide offices

Posted November 5, 2008 6:43 p.m. EST
Updated November 6, 2008 1:08 p.m. EST

— Twelve years ago, North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall became the first woman to hold a statewide elected office.

On Tuesday, women knocked out the "old boys club" and seized control of the Council of State by winning six of the 10 positions that comprise the state panel. The female majority is historic and includes the first women in the positions of governor, state treasurer and state auditor.

All of the women had to prove themselves in a political world dominated by men.

"I had a group of the good old boys look at me and say, 'A woman can't run. A woman can't serve,'" Governor-elect Beverly Perdue said Wednesday, recalling her first legislative campaign in 1986. "One of them had the audacity to say, 'If you serve, you probably wouldn't know how.'"

Marshall said she met with similar resistance when she took on NASCAR legend Richard Petty in 1996 for secretary of state. An editorial cartoon at the time showed a secretary in 1956 and a secretary of state 40 years later.

She said she didn't expect to have so much company at the table so quickly.

"I had dreams (of other women getting elected), but I did not realize it would come in just three elections," she said. "That's so empowering. That's so uplifting. That means that North Carolina has made a huge step forward."

Still, Marshall and the other female Council of State members said they don't want their success slighted by stereotypes.

"Let's talk about what's their mission in life, what they're trying to accomplish, rather than what they look like," Marshall said.

Beth Wood, who upset incumbent state auditor Les Merritt on Tuesday, said the gender breakdown shouldn't even be a point for discussion.

"I haven't even thought about it as much as I've thought about the talent that's going to be on the Council of State – and it just happens to be women," Wood said.