When her daughter was in just the first grade, lobbyist Marie DesOrmeaux Centanni brought her to the Louisiana Capitol to see how the Legislature works.
But soon, her daughter noticed something. “Boys make the rules?” Centanni recalled her daughter asking her during that visit after quickly noticing that men greatly outnumbered women in the Legislature.
“She, of her own accord, noticed the difference – even at that age,” Centanni said during a panel discussion at LSU that was part of an event Wednesday examining hurdles that women have to overcome when they run for office and the disparities between genders in state government.
Louisiana has historically had little female representation on the state and federal level.
In addition to the state’s all-male Congressional delegation, there are no female statewide office holders in Louisiana currently, after no women ran as major candidates for statewide office in 2015.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, about 15 percent of the members of the Louisiana State House and Senate are women — up from 12.5 percent at the end of the last term in 2015, according to figures tracked by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. The national average is 28.7 percent.
The CAWP has repeatedly marked milestones in recent years for record numbers of female office holders across the country, but Louisiana hasn’t bested the 17.4 percent high mark that its female legislative ranks reached in 2005.
The “Politicking While Female” event – part of the LSU Reilly Center’s annual John Breaux Symposium – drew dozens of experts on why women hold fewer elected offices and what can be done to bring more female representation into policy-making.
“The data shows that women who decide to run for office women at the same rate as men,” said Melanie Oubre, executive director of Emerge Louisiana, a group that encourages Democratic women to run for office and provides guidance to them. “So the question is, why the disparity?”