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Four Women Represent State's New Political Landscape

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RALEIGH — History was made Inauguration Day when four women took their jobs in state government. Their victories are seen as positive for the future of women in politics.

Ask who is wearing the pants in state government these days, and the answer might be -- a woman. Bev Perdue was the first woman to be elected lieutenant governor of North Carolina.

"I don't think that when people went to the ballot box they said, 'I'm going to vote for a woman.' I think they looked at who was running and they picked leadership," she says.

The state's new leadership includes four women: Perdue, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Agriculture CommissionerMeg Scott Phippsand Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry. Marshall was the first woman ever elected to the Council of State.

"My election opened up the door, and now I feel like it's wide open for anyone to come through," she says. "I once said it was a crack in the glass ceiling. Now it's a floodgate."

The executive mansion once seemed out of reach for female candidates, but Council of State members say no office is off-limits now. They believe a woman will move into the governor's mansion one day, not as first lady, but as the first lady governor of North Carolina.

"I believe we will have viable women candidates seeking that nomination in 2008, and I think there's a possibility to elect one of them," Marshall says.

Women now hold four of the top nine offices in North Carolina. Perdue hopes the trend will trickle down to other levels of state government, like theGeneral Assembly, where women are still under-represented.

"Actually, there are about 51 percent of folks in this state who are women, and the elected leadership will someday, maybe not in my lifetime, but someday, be reflective of what the general population is," Perdue says.

A woman has never been elected to the U.S. Senate from North Carolina, but that could change soon. Elaine Marshall is testing the waters for a possible Senate bid in 2002.


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