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Chafee praised for appointing more women in RI

By David Klepper
Associated Press / July 17, 2012
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PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Advocates for women's participation in government cheered Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Tuesday for more than doubling the number of women serving in high-level positions in state government.

Women now hold 33 percent of board and commission appointments made by the governor, compared with 15 percent in 2010. Since Chafee took office last year, 209 of the 462 people he has appointed to boards and commissions are women.

The Women's Fund of Rhode Island, which has sought to boost female involvement in government, publicly thanked Chafee on Tuesday at a Statehouse press conference.

Chafee, an independent, said he tries to pick the most qualified people for government positions regardless of their gender. But he said that when two applicants are evenly qualified, he often picks a woman in an effort to shrink the state's political gender gap. Chafee, an independent, said he will continue efforts to boost female participation in state government, noting that 42 boards and commissions still lack woman members.

"We have made great progress," Chafee said at Tuesday's press conference. "There's still work to be done. It's really not about numbers, it's about the talent."

Chafee also has tapped women for top roles in his administration, including spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger; Janet Coit, director of the state's Department of Environmental Management and Janice DeFrances, director of the Department of Children, Youth and Families. Seven cabinet directors and four of the governor's seven senior staff members are female.

During the 2010 gubernatorial race, the Women's Fund challenged Chafee and the other candidates to appoint more women if elected. Under former Gov. Don Carcieri, the number was 15 percent. At the time, Chafee called that number "embarrassing."

Women often bring a different perspective to government, said Marcia Cone, CEO of the Women's Fund. She said more women are likely to be willing to serve if they see greater numbers of women in government.

Former Secretary of State Susan Farmer, the first woman to hold statewide office in Rhode Island, said women often just need to be asked to serve.

"We need to make sure we keep the pressure on our colleagues and friends to step up," she said. "... It's not an easy thing to put yourself out there."

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