This last election was a very good year for electing Democratic women to national office.
We seated Elizabeth Warren (MA), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Mazie Hirono (HI) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND) in the Senate, and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) will now be serving a full term.
There are new freshwomen in the House:
(AZ)Ann Kirkpatrick and Kyrsten Sinema, (CA) Gloria Negrete McLeod, Julia Brownley,
(CT) Elizabeth Esty, (FL)Lois Frankel, (HI) Tulsi Gabbard, (IL) Tammy Duckworth, and
Cheri Bustos, (NV) *Dina Titus, (NH) * Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster,(NM) Michelle Lujan Grisham (NY) Grace Meng, (OH) Joyce Beatty and (WA) Suzan DelBene.
(* has been in Congress before)
And there is a chance that we will see more bids for the White House made by women, in the years ahead.
That's the good news.
Here's the bad news.
The United States ranks 77th in the world in women's participation in government.
Oh sure, we do way better than Saudi Arabia which has no women's suffrage, so they rank zero, but 77th?
That, combined with an all out war on women by our other major Party—the Republicans, means we still have a lot of work to do.
Let me be more specific.
Just because a politician is female does not mean she is going to represent progressive women's values. This is not about ovaries—it's about empathy. We have the Sarah Palin's and Jan Brewer's and Michele Bachmann's who make that perfectly clear.
Obviously there are also men who are feminists. Without them having voted for our issues and our rights we wouldn't have come as far as we have since women got the right to vote and hold office.
I know this is women's history month but it's just as important to talk about the future. We need to get up off our assets and start building it.
Follow me below the fold to take a look at the research, some action plans and two inspiring stories.
One of the major organizations that has focused on getting progressive women elected has been Emily's List, which supports pro-choice Democratic women.
EMILY’s List is dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to office. The method is a little more complicated, but not much. Basically, it works like this:
EMILY’s List looks for viable political opportunities and recruits strong pro-choice Democratic women candidates to run.
We tell our community of members about these women, and ask them to give directly to the campaigns of candidates for House, Senate, and governor.
We provide extensive training for candidates and staff so they can make the most of limited resources and win the toughest races. We conduct in-depth, ongoing research into the minds and moods of women voters, a critical bloc for Democrats whose votes are key to electing more women.
Finally, our WOMEN VOTE! project reaches out to women voters in the days and weeks before Election Day with persuasive messages that motivate them to go to the polls and cast their ballots for progressive Democrats -- because if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s When Women Vote, Women Win!
They are already gearing up for the next election cycle.
Emily's list is setting it's sights on statehouses for 2014.
Record numbers of women were elected to Congress last year, many of them Democrats bolstered by EMILY's List. Now, the Democratic women's group is turning its eye to executive positions ahead of the 2014 midterms, hoping to expand the thin ranks of Democratic women governors.
Congress will remain a priority for the group, which recruits pro-choice Democratic women to run for office and supports them with campaign assistance, bundled donations from a two-million-strong member list, and independent TV and mail ads. But there is just one Democratic woman governor in office right now -- Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire -- and EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock said in an interview that the group is looking forward to rectifying that in 2014.
"We're talking to women in 15 different states," Schriock said. "Will all 15 run? Probably not. But I'm confident that we'll see a good number of them step up."
Numerous high-profile Democratic women are already laying the groundwork for 2014 gubernatorial runs, whether against Republicans or fellow Democrats. Democratic Rep. Allyson Schwartz has said she is interested in running against GOP Gov. Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania. In Illinois, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is reportedly "very close" to deciding to run (against unpopular Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn) there, while Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is mulling a primary challenge against Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (or a Senate bid).
I'm glad to see that they are moving on this.
But if you look at recent social science literature, there are still many barriers for women entering our political process, and most women are not at the stage to vie for a governorship.
Here's a study I think we all should read about the gender gap.
Seven Factors Reveal Why Women Don’t Run for Office
In their new report, Men Rule: The Continued Under-Representation of Women in U.S. Politics, Lawless, a 2006 candidate for Congress seeking the Democratic nomination in Rhode Island’s second district, and Fox detail the results of a survey of nearly 4,000 lawyers, business leaders, educators, and political activists, all of whom are well-situated to run for office. Even with the emergence over the past ten years of high-profile women in politics, the authors find that the gap between women and men’s interest in running for office is the same today as it was a decade ago.
The report identifies seven factors that contribute to the gender gap in interest in running for office:
1. Women are substantially more likely than men to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates.
2. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s candidacies aggravated women’s perceptions of gender bias in the electoral arena.
3. Women are much less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office.
4. Female potential candidates are less competitive, less confident, and more risk averse than their male counterparts.
5. Women react more negatively than men to many aspects of modern campaigns.
6. Women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office – from anyone.
7. Women are still responsible for the majority of childcare and household tasks.
We need to pay much more attention to getting women elected to state houses—assemblies and senates. Of the list of our new freshwomen in the house, most had been state representatives. That is the pipeline which feeds many women who do decide to run into national office.
I got a chance last year to watch and participate in making that step into the State House happen, here in New York.
CeCe on the campaign trail
Her name is Cecelia Tkaczyk. Yes, no one could figure out how to pronounce her surname (Cat-chick). When she came to our local Saugerties NY Democratic committee meeting to ask for our endorsement she grinned and said, "just call me CeCe".
An unlikely candidate, who had never held political office, CeCe lives on a small farm, was on her local school board, but she did know a lot about state politics.
When NYS redistricted, creating a shoe-in slot for Republican George Amadore, that new district was where she lived. CeCe was active on her local school board, and she told us that she was angry that budget cuts were going to eliminate kindergarten in her school district. That made her decide to do something about it, and the "how" would be to run for office. She presented us with her resume.
Recognized as a housing policy expert, Cecilia has over 20 years experience working in the field of affordable and supportive housing. For nearly ten years, Cecilia served as Executive Director of the Neighborhood Preservation Coalition of New York State – a coalition representing over 300 non-profit affordable housing providers throughout the state. Additionally, she worked for a time as Statewide Advocacy Director for the Supportive Housing Network of New York. During her tenure as a housing expert, Cecilia lead successful state and federal advocacy campaigns around affordable housing and homelessness issues.
Most recently, Cecilia worked as a senior legislative analyst for the New York State Senate Majority Conference where she played a key role in developing the 2009 Mortgage Foreclosure Law to assist homeowners and tenants dealing with the foreclosure crisis. Before moving to New York State, Cecilia worked as a labor organizer with the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers and was involved in the successful campaign to organize Harvard’s clerical and technical staff.
I sat in the room, and listened carefully. Especially when she talked about campaign finance reform, which would become a key part of her campaign.
I got to talk to her more during our annual Fourth of July parade, and when the fall semester started in August at my university, I suggested that we have her come to our introduction to women's studies class to speak to our students. Point #3 and Point #6 on Lawless' list were in my head. The young women in our class each year know nothing about state politics. They have never been able to name state or local officials. Few, if any had ever met a woman who had decided to run for office.
I asked her if she would come and she did. It was a great class, and the young women who got a chance to listen to her were for the first time able to grasp that local and state politics might be an option for them. CeCe was accompanied by a young woman who was doing public relations for her campaign, who was a recent college graduate, and talking with her was also a plus for the students.
My school is not in the district she was running for. I was grateful that she took the time out of a busy campaign to be a role model for the next generation. We need more woman to do that. We need more teachers to get local elected officials, or campaign staff personnel to come into the classrooms and talk to students and get them interested. To show them the realm of possibility.
A few of the students wound up volunteering to work on her campaign after her visit.
CeCe won by 19 votes after a long court battle...her opponent George Amadore had already been sworn in. Every vote counted. What was key for me, was that students who didn't even live or vote in her district cared about the results and were avidly following the results of the election and asking questions about the recount, and the court battle. We all celebrated her victory, two months after election day.
Yes it was a squeaker, and her battle made the issue of campaign finance reform clear to my students who are from working class and middle class families. The current cost of campaigning slams the door in the faces of women who would be excellent representatives.
I got very pointed questions from young women of color about the barriers they might face. Most of them just can't imagine ever running for office, with the double jeopardy of racism and sexism. Even though New York has representatives like Nydia Velázquez (the first Puerto Rican woman in Congress) and we teach the history of women like Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman in Congress (who they know nothing about), my young women can't imagine that they could ever do the same thing, especially those from areas in city like Harlem, the South Bronx, Washington Heights or Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Some of my girls have been in trouble in the past. In their minds that locks them out of politics.
So this is a young woman I point to. This video was made by the National Women's Law Center when Lucy Flores was running for state office in Nevada in 2009.
The text of the video:
I'm Lucy Flores
I am a first generation Mexican American. I am the youngest girl of 13 siblings. I was raised in poverty by my father, and growing up I didn't have much to strive for.
My mother left when I was nine years old. Every single one of my sisters-six of them-got pregnant when they were teenagers. I currently have two brothers who are in prison and lost two brothers as a result of drug and gang violence.
98 % of Latinas we surveyed want to finish high school.
41% of Latinas don't.
My father worked day and night to provide for us. I grew up in an environment where there was no positive role models, and the only people who were available were gang members, so that's who I turned to.
I was twelve years old when I began my life of crime. Started out with small things; ditching school, petty Larceny but then the seriousness gradually escalated; grand theft auto, breaking into homes And even though I was enrolled in Gifted and Talented education, I purposely started failing my classes because I wanted to be with my cool friends. No one noticed. They didn't call my dad, they didn't send letters; I was basically just another Latina at a low-income school. And I was just another number.
Latinas are the fastest growing group of female school-aged youth.
I was finally sentenced to a long-term juvenile detention facility. Nine months later I was released back into the same environment and when I finally dropped out of high school at the end of my junior year no one cared.
One third of the girls we surveyed
do not expect to achieve their educational goals.
That was the expectation for me and that's the expectation that continues for young Latinas across the country. Drop-out, get pregnant, be a single-mother, work some menial job the rest of your life and just try to make your way as best as you can.
Every Latina deserves support to realize her dreams.
Fortunately for me I had people who intervened. A major person in my life was my parole officer and then later on my co workers all who convinced me that I was capable of more.
I got my GED. I enrolled at the Community College of Southern Nevada. Now I'm a third year law student. I am also running for a State Assembly seat for the state of Nevada.
It is critical for our nation's health and prosperity to invest in Latinas' success.
Young Latinas shouldn't have to struggle that much. They deserve more from our schools. I fell through the cracks, but managed to make my way back up. I was one of the lucky ones.
It shouldn't just be about luck.
Lucy Flores, Nevada State Assembly
Flores, won her election and was just re-elected. It is important that we pass on information about women who may not make national news headlines. We spend too much time (imho) focusing on top of the national ticket figures, and far too little time educating about those women who are breaking barriers in state and local/city elections.
Nevada’s first Latina assemblywoman on breaking barriers
This last election saw an unprecedented number of women elected to office, yet Latinas continue to be underrepresented. What follows is an interview with Lucy Flores, who was re-elected Assemblywoman for District 28 in North Las Vegas, NV, and is the state’s first Latina assemblywoman. She talks to Elianne Ramos about the state of Latinas in politics and the need for more Hispanic women to run for office.
ER: When it comes to elected office, women from any race are a minority but Latinas are overwhelmingly underrepresented. To what do you attribute this?
LF: There are a lot of different factors that create barriers for Latinas in politics. One of them is that there are not a lot of role models; there are not a lot of Latinas in elected office. So when a minority woman thinks about things she could do and relates that to what she has seen, politics and elected office aren’t really top of mind.
The second thing is that there is really a lack of support out there. There isn’t a political structure in place for Latinas to turn to. Third, there are some cultural issues: Latinas tend to be very self-reliant. We’re used to being that person who does everything for everyone, except for ourselves.
Flores offered advice about support networks, and how to begin to get involved.
ER: What steps should a Latina start taking if she’s considering a public service life?
LF: There are organizations out there offering some training, and even some financial assistance. For example, Emily’s List offers on-the-ground training. Getting in their email list is a great first step. There’s also Latinas United for Political Empowerment (LUPE). Those are the two most established ones. I usually also encourage people to become aware of what is going on in their city; to become involved not just issue-wise but also campaign-wise. Find out about issues being discussed at the city council, at your school board, at your state legislature. Volunteer for other candidates, do all of the campaign stuff that you will have to do when it’s your turn.
There are many organizations which are encouraging, educating and supporting women who are developing in interest in politics. Some are non-partisan and work to bring new women into the arena, like She Should Run
. They have a form you can fill out online:
Ask a Woman to Consider Running for Office
Tell us about a great woman who you believe should run for office someday, and we'll make sure she gets the encouragement, connections, and resources she needs. Whether she's already talking about running or has never considered it, your vote of confidence matters.
Groups like the Center for American Progress have run workshops focused on women of color
which are available online.
The Women's Media Center deals with amplifying progressive women's voices to help combat misogyny in media that women in politics face.
Feminist Majority PAC, and ActBlue, provided crucial venues to support campaigns.
Let's see what we can do to make "Yes, She Can" a reality. Whether it's on a city council, a mayor's race, a seat in the state house or in the oval office of the White House, let's start today to make history-herstories.