Lack of diversity among Ky. elected; both parties must do soul-searching

Anyone who has been awake the last few days knows that a new, more diverse day is being hailed in American politics.

This presidential election was not primarily decided by white men, as so many have in the past, but by women and people of color.

Commentators credit that shift for re-electing a black president, Barack Obama, and playing a role in sending more women to the U.S. Congress than ever in our history.

In Kentucky, though, we stuck to the original game plan. It would have been hard to do otherwise, since we didn't have a Senate race and not one woman nor one member of a minority group was on the ballot for our six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

There's, of course, a good reason for that. People who run for congressional seats have often gotten there by working up the ladder of elected offices, and in Kentucky not many women or minorities make it past the first rungs.

Although women are a majority both in population in Kentucky and among registered voters, they made up only 15.8 percent of the members of the 2012 state Senate and 20 percent of the House.

Minority officeholders in Kentucky don't do any better.

Although 8 percent of the state population is black, that group claims no U.S. senators or representatives or state constitutional officers, one state senator and five representatives.

A 2009 study by then-Secretary of State Trey Grayson, found no minorities in any county elected positions other than magistrates (three).

Remarkably, this is something of an improvement. This year, Kentucky ranked only 38th in the percentage of women in the state legislature, up from 47th in 2008.

But it's not good enough. As national results indicate, we will be left behind if we continue to rely on a white-male minority to provide the time, energy and intelligence to guide our communities and the state into a better future.

Perhaps the most crippling force holding our state back is poverty, a plague visited disproportionately on women and racial minorities.

The U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey reports that women in the Kentucky work force make on average about $10,000 a year less than men (41,691 compared to 31,362) for full-time, year-round work.

Over half of single-parent families in Kentucky headed by women with young children in the household live in poverty.

So, many, if not all of the economic issues being debated in state houses and the national Capitol can be termed women's issues. Access to education good jobs, health care and day care all go directly to the ability of these women to provide for their families.

A number of organizations work diligently to increase the representation of women and racial minorities in our public life. Clearly, they have had some positive impact, but more needs to be done.

As the national Republican Party contemplates its failures with women and minorities, both parties in Kentucky should take this opportunity for some serious soul-searching.

As individuals, we should all keep in mind the messages we're sending to children about who has the capacity to lead.