Every now and then, I read something that stops me short. This week, that something was a blithe assessment of why Republican women are underrepresented in political office in Louisiana, and elsewhere.
“The guys, for the most part, let a lot of the vitriol bounce off them,” former Louisiana GOP chair Roger Villere told a reporter from the LSU Manship School News Service. “You’ll see them attack one another in the morning and then they’re out at a party, kidding around with one another. Whereas the ladies tend to hold a grudge a little longer.”
Now, Villere’s been around politics a long time. I have too, which is why I need to raise an objection here. When I run down my mental list of grudge-holders, it’s men who come to mind.
After former U.S. Sen. David Vitter ferociously attacked his Republican primary rivals for governor back in 2015, both Jay Dardenne and Scott Angelle broke protocol by refusing to endorse their fellow Republican against Democrat John Bel Edwards in the runoff. Dardenne backed Edwards, and eventually joined his administration as commissioner of administration. Angelle stayed neutral and ran for Congress a year later, in a race in which Vitter got him back by helping his victorious opponent, fellow Republican Clay Higgins.
Speaking of Vitter, he held a grudge for years against Bobby Jindal, dating back to the time in 2007 when Jindal, then a congressman and candidate for governor, declined to rush to Vitter’s defense after Vitter’s phone number appeared in records of a Washington, D.C., prostitution ring.
As for Jindal, he was known to show his pique at those who bucked him by removing appointees and even pushing to have lawmakers’ committee assignments revoked.
And it sure wasn’t two female lawmakers who came to blows in a Baton Rouge bar during last year’s legislative session. That was state Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette and Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, having what they later termed a “gentleman's disagreement.”
This isn’t a Republican-only phenomenon. Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu was widely criticized for shutting out his critics; in fact, when former judge Michael Bagneris announced his plans to challenge Landrieu for a second term, the announcement rally amounted to an airing of personal grievances by other politicians against Landrieu, who won handily anyway.
Nor is it unique to Louisiana. Up in Washington, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, essentially froze former New Jersey Gov. and early Trump backer Chris Christie out of the administration. Before he was elected governor, Christie was a federal prosecutor who put lots of people behind bars, including Kushner’s father.
As for Trump himself, well, it’s hard to know where to start. One place is his all-out, and failed, attempt to unseat Democratic Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who dared cross the president by fighting his attempt to have his physician installed as secretary of Veterans Affairs.
For naked revenge, though, it’s hard to top the story out of another northwestern state. Just about a year ago, Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, of Idaho, threatened to shut the government down over a provision to name a wilderness preserve after a deceased rival.
What’s the point of repeating all these stories, rather than just letting Villere’s comment slide?
It’s that comments like his perpetuate stereotypes, whether the person who made them means to or not. It’s claiming women are more sensitive to criticism than men wrongly suggests that they’re less able to take the heat, that they’re not sufficiently tough to hold high political office. While I’ve certainly run across female politicians with thin skins, I could write a whole column about women who toughed it out and then some.
This stereotype isn’t the only thing working against women entering politics in both parties — that could be a whole other column as well — but it’s in the mix. Given that Louisiana currently has no women serving at the state level or in Congress, and that just 15 percent of state lawmakers are female, this is a challenge that should be addressed on multiple fronts, including crafting more family-friendly conditions and helping women compete with the guys when it comes to fundraising.
One easy place to start is to question long-held assumptions — particularly when there’s ample evidence to contradict them.