The new Republican majority in Arkansas came with the support of female majorities in some key races.
Democrats had traditionally enjoyed an edge among female voters, partly because of reproductive rights, but also because of progressive school, home and health issues.
Times change. Two Republican women were elected to statewide offices. Female Republicans knocked off some Democratic incumbents in the legislature, propelled by their opposition to expanded health care. The early news on future legislation is equally unprogressive, but enjoys support from Republican women legislators.
Let's begin with a superficial, but symbolic happening.
New legislators had orientation last week. In the House, the dress code is always discussed. It's brief. Men must wear ties on the floor and, when they go to the well of the House to speak, must don jackets. Women are expected to dress in business attire. This year, rising Speaker Jeremy Gillam asked outgoing Republican Rep. Stephanie Malone to give the 20 women of the House an informal session on the dress code.
Was it because a new legislator appeared for orientation, as one told me, dressed for an "evening at a bar"? Malone insists it was just a routine orientation. She told the group that women shouldn't bare arms on the floor (bearing arms is another matter altogether) and avoid clothing cut "too low or too short." Most important, though, was the urging of veteran female members to always don a jacket when speaking in the well. At least one new Republican legislator, Julie Mayberry, objected. She's a former TV announcer. She likes dresses. She thinks her dress appropriate and would prefer not to throw on a jacket, too. Malone put it this way: If women want to be taken as seriously as men, they should wear a jacket, too.
I'd rather judge seriousness of purpose by legislation than outerwear. In that category, trouble is brewing.
Male and female Republicans plan to further marginalize women. Republicans likely will succeed in 2015 with legislation to prevent federal money from flowing to Planned Parenthood to educate teens on avoiding sexually transmitted diseases. Planned Parenthood offers a range of health services, including contraception, but it also provides abortion. Anybody engaging in that legal activity must be punished by the state. Legislators seem likely to make abortion providers provide still more scare information to talk women out of abortions. One female legislator wants to require presence of a doctor when a woman is given an abortion-inducing drug. Abortions can be dangerous, she says. Childbirth can be more dangerous. Perhaps a doctor should be present when women have sex to fully inform them of health risks — not to mention the potential for ungrateful children.
Republican Kansas also tells us where Arkansas may be headed. A giant tax cut in Kansas didn't produce the boom Gov. Sam Brownback envisioned. Now he's having to raid reserves and cut state services to balance the budget.
Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson is talking of a cumulative $150 million in tax cuts over the next two years. He's not yet gotten behind the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which has provided health security to a quarter-million Arkansans, including multitudes of children. If he doesn't get behind it — and if some of those new Republican women don't vote for it — its collapse will drain hundreds of millions more from state services.
Kansas is slashing pre-K education. Already beggared in Arkansas, it seems unlikely to get much love from Asa Hutchinson. He has described it as a welfare program, not a vital catch-up for kids most in need.
Early detection of kids' medical problems, primary care for adults and care for the elderly are all on the line in the Medicaid vote. These were once women's issues. But if you want to be treated like a man these days, you have to not only dress like a man, you must vote like one, too.