Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2012, 6:00 am

Editorial: A woman's place? Yes!

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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus

Cheri Bustos made history Nov. 6, not just as the first woman elected to Congress in the district that includes the Quad-Cities. But as one of a record number of women who will serve the nation in the 113th Congress.

In January, the nation's legislative branch will feature 101 women -- 81 in the House and 20 in the Senate.

Somewhere Rep. Jeannette Ranking is smiling broadly. The Montana woman was the first female elected to Congress in 1917. We suspect she would have found the results of the 2012 election mind-boggling.

So, no doubt, would Sen. Hattie Wyatt Caraway. The Arkansas Democrat who became the first to serve in the Senate, was a rare sight in 1931 Washington.

"Sometimes I'm really afraid that tourists are going to poke me with their umbrellas!" she said. "And yet there's no sound reason why women, if they have the time and ability, shouldn't sit with men on city councils, in state legislatures, or in the House and Senate. "

Times have changed, if slowly. The new Congress' female caucus will feature women like Rep.-elect Bustos. She and others in this freshmen female class add fresh impetus to the feminist battle cry, "A woman's place is in the House and the Senate."

To be sure, even with the presence of this new feminine vanguard, Congress falls far short of reflecting the nation's female population, which the U.S. Census now tells us is at around 50.8 percent. But it is still represents progress.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi chose to highlight that progress when the ground-breaking congressional leader invited female members to stand with her as she announced she would seek re-election as House minority leader. Ms. Bustos was among those who were part of that "hey, look at where we are" moment.

"I was proud to stand alongside the other women who have been elected throughout the country," she said by phone from Washington where she and dozens of other new lawmakers were getting a crash course in life in Congress.

We share her impatience with the notion that in 2012 America still is talking about such women's firsts. But join with her in celebrating yet another milestone in the long march toward political equality.

Certainly their presence will make Washington look a little more like America. So will election of a record 28 Latinos. Their victories, along with those of other people of color mean, for the first time, the majority of a party in the House will be made up of women and minorities. Or as, Ms. Bustos said, Democrats "are now a majority minority" party.

And though the bulk of the new female members are Democrats, it isn't only women on the left gaining clout.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., has been chosen to serve as Republican Conference chairman. That makes the pro-life woman the fifth-highest ranking House Republican woman ever and the highest-ranking GOP woman in the history of Congress.

Some critics worry that the inclusion of more groups will emphasize the differences among elected officials.

It's hard to imagine how these new faces, ideas and approaches can do more to create gridlock than the polarizing white, male-dominated Congress has done in recent years.

For her part, Rep.-elect Bustos said she already is working to bridge differences. She spoke Friday with former GOP congressman Ray LaHood to seek his help in finding ways to foster common ground. The current secretary of transportation for a Democrat president, he is well known for his ability to reach across the aisle and to foster civility in a no-holds-barred political environment.

We salute those efforts and welcome others to follow her example.
If enough of them do, perhaps this new, more diverse Congress can do what the last one couldn't: end the gridlock and find a path to cooperation for the good of the nation.