Columns » John Brummett

Chick Elections



Some guys were sitting around trying to figure out why, Blanche Lincoln excepted, women did so well in the primary and judicial election last week.

A woman got more votes than anyone on the ballot to win a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court. A woman led the ticket for another court seat, nearly winning without a runoff. A woman showed up four men in the Democratic race for Congress in the 2nd District.

We figured it was a gender thing, beyond our comprehension. You have your chick flicks. Now we have our chick elections.

Actually, I'm willing to venture a little analysis. If I'm wrong, I can only cite the example of Bill Clinton when he was governor and getting harassed on the stairs of the state Capitol by Say McIntosh. Clinton snapped and shouted to McIntosh, “I'm sorry I'm not black.”

If I get this analysis wholly gummed up, women should accept my apology for not being a woman.

The race for the Arkansas Supreme Court between a veteran male judge named John Fogleman and a young inexperienced female judge named Courtney Henry provides an instructive case study. She destroyed him.

All the lawyers I know well favored Fogleman. All the lawyers I know well are men.

Some of the lawyers I know well wanted me to write a column criticizing Henry for telling a compelling story in her stump speeches about how she was adopted and was therefore especially sensitive on children's and family issues. They said she was adopted by her mother's new husband, which was hardly an orphan's story.

But here's the thing: Henry did not lie. She was adopted. She never said she was an orphan. And I happen to know that, if she had told the rest of the story, delving into profoundly painful personal matters, she probably would have won by an even bigger margin.

Why bring adoption up at all? It's politics. Biography counts.

It's like Mike Beebe saying he was born in a tar paper shack and never knew his father, but declining to go into any further detail about his mother. He wanted to connect with people and tell an ingratiating story of overcoming disadvantage. He wanted to win an election. But he didn't want to go into any further detail in public. These were painful, embarrassing

The stump speech to which Henry limited herself — saying her childhood experience of a new name and a new family taught her the value of new beginnings in life, which the justice system can provide — was compelling enough and factual as far as it went. And it may have connected more with female listeners than with men.

Women tend to be forced to make new beginnings in our society, taking new names, balancing motherhood and careers in ways not typically faced by men, standing by their men, or not, when those men behave as the boys they forever are.
It's almost as if Henry's biographical snippet was female code.

It had to have been something like that to cause Fogleman to get lesser winning percentages even in his home counties than he got as a candidate for judge in that district against a male opponent years before.

I also suspect that his signature television commercial boomeranged. In it he appropriately cited his extensive judging experience. But then, at the end of the ad, he showed a blurred photograph of the young, blonde Henry, stating that, by comparison, she had only one year of judging experience.

It is entirely possible — I'd even say likely — that women, or at least some of them, recoiled at that image, likening it to an older man's typically lording over a younger woman the inherent advantages he holds only by virtue of being older and male.
Women may even have viewed the presentation of Henry in that commercial an attempt to stereotype and dismiss her as a ditzy blonde.

I don't think Fogleman or his male advisers meant that, at least consciously. Maybe they thought they were treating the young woman the same way they'd treat a man, which is, they perhaps thought, what women want.

It's what we all do subconsciously that places some of us on one planet and some on another.

Alas, we have no exit polls to break down the gender demographic in this race. So I'm ad-libbing here without data.

If I'm wrong on this, women should feel free to tell me, if they can find time amid their systematic overthrow of our political and judicial systems.

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