This week marked a major milestone for Project XX South Carolina.
The nonprofit and Super PAC founded by Skirt! publisher Nikki Hardin and Ginny Deerin, president of Learn to Win, set an ambitious goal to increase the number of qualified women on state boards and commissions.
After an intensive publicity and informational campaign to educate both legislators and the rest of the state about the intent of the state law that says the Legislature should “strive to assure” that board membership reflects the state population and demographics, there is progress to report.
Of eight universities and colleges that had open seats, five gained women, two neither gained nor lost, and one, Francis Marion, lost a little ground.
“We're feeling upbeat on a couple of scores,” Deerin said. “One, progress was made on a couple of boards, and two, people are paying more attention. My hope is that the next set of elections that come up, legislators will be more thoughtful about their votes.”
Deerin couldn't deny that watching the vote in-person was discouraging, as was the fact that neither woman running for the open seats on the MUSC board was elected, though a woman was elected to the 6th Congressional District medical member seat. Charleston's own Susan Pearlstine, a longtime supporter of MUSC, lost to businessman Michael Stavrinakas, brother of Rep. Leon Stavrinakas.
Deerin doesn't think Pearlstine or Marva Smalls regret making a run for the seat. “I think they feel that their running has and will continue to serve as great examples of what should not happen.”
Meanwhile, Pansy King-Reid, sister of state Rep. John King of Rock Hill, was elected to a seat on the College of Charleston board, despite questions that surfaced during the screening process.
So in some cases, nepotism can overcome the glass ceiling.
There's no doubt that Project XX succeeded in getting more attention paid to the screening process and election. And if legislators felt subjected to even a tiny bit more scrutiny about the process as a result, so much the better.
And now, having been through the process once, Deerin said they have some definite ideas of how it could be improved.
For one thing, the Legislature should get rid of the ridiculous commitment period, which is at best a cattle call and at worst a feeding frenzy. It's as much of a de-commitment period as anything; Pearlstine and Smalls were being pressured to withdraw their names as late as the morning of the vote, Deerin said. If all candidates stayed in until the vote, that would add another layer of accountability.
Deerin and Hardin were extremely pleased that they have been contacted by many women who are interested in serving in some capacity, and they're hoping to create an infrastructure to match those women to open seats.
“We want to continue to be data driven and outcome-driven organization, rather than just sort of whining about the problem,” Deerin said.
They're off to a strong start.
Reach Melanie Balog at mbalog @postandcourier.com or 937-5565.