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I was on a panel last week for the Women’s Networking Forum sponsored by Hunton & Williams law firm. The subject was “Lipstick, Pantsuits and Politics.”

When I told my wife I would be talking about women and politics, she shot back: “Two of your favorite subjects.” And I actually know something about one of them.

During the panel, I was struck by a paradox. This year, North Carolina elected a woman governor. We elected a woman to replace a woman in the U.S. Senate. Eight of 10 Council of State members are women. Three of seven Supreme Court justices are women. Eight of 15 Court of Appeals judges. There are 45 female District Court judges in the state. In Wake County, seven of nine school board members are women.

But the picture is different in Congress and the General Assembly. Only one member of North Carolina’s congressional delegation is female. Only six of 50 Senators are women. Only 36 of 120 House members.

I asked: Why the under-representation? Clearly, when women run for public office in North Carolina, they win.

One person said more women need to get in the “pipeline.” That makes sense.

But I still don’t understand. Especially at a time – after this election – when the “female” approach to leadership is in vogue: more inclusive, empathetic and collaborative. And when the issues focus on economic and family concerns.

I do understand how critical women are in today’s politics. They were key to Democrats winning this year. Look at Obama’s coalition: He won nearly all African-Americans, two-thirds of Hispanics and two-thirds of voters under 30. But he still would not have won without winning more than half of women, which he did.

That’s a big problem for Republicans. Of Obama’s coalition, women are the only bloc where they can recover. But the GOP has become the party of angry white Southern men.

Laura Leslie of WUNC radio pointed out that there are strong Republican women in the legislature. The GOP would be better off looking to them, not Sarah Palin, for the future.

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