98 men, 2 women, all white

May 01, 1992

"I was thunderstruck, as I think most Americans were, with the composition of the Judiciary Committee," said Lynn Yeakel just before the Pennsylvania primary on Tuesday. She is explaining her decision to run for the Democratic nomination for Senate. "It just seems clear to me to have 98 men, two women and no people of color in the highest legislative body in this land is inappropriate."

She also found Sen. Arlen Specter's questioning of Anita Hill in the Thomas confirmation hearings inappropriate. That is what convinced her to try to unseat him. Mrs. Yeakel, who won that Democratic nomination for Senate, explained her victory by saying, "I was in the right place at the right time." If there is a big anti-Clarence Thomas vote at this time, there could be several more women senators next year. A record 21 women are running for Senate seats, and 18 of them are Democrats, whose party opposed the Thomas nomination.

Mrs. Yeakel is the second woman to win a Democratic Senate primary this year largely on the Anita Hill issue. The first was Carol Moseley Braun in Illinois, where the loser was incumbent Sen. Alan J. Dixon, who had voted to confirm Judge Thomas. Obviously it is a cutting issue.

Yet it is not enough. If women are going to increase their numbers in the Senate, candidates like Carol Moseley Braun and Lynn Yeakel have to be more than one-issue candidates. It is by no means clear that a majority of voters (as opposed to a plurality of Democratic voters) agree with them on the Thomas-Hill issue. Exit polls showed that voters felt, by a 48-35 percent margin, that Judge Thomas should have been confirmed.

Even many of those who are anti-Thomas expect a senator to have more wide-ranging interests and expertise than Mrs. Yeakel displayed in her campaign. To get elected, she is going to have to do far more than run television commercials showing Senator Specter grilling Anita Hill.

It is high time the diversity of America was reflected in the Senate. The Senate also would benefit from having members who, like Mrs. Yeakel, come from non-government endeavors. We believe in apprenticeship in government but we also believe in variety. To slightly paraphrase Mrs. Yeakel, "The politics of experience can be more valuable for a senator than the experience of politics."

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