Republican Women Poised to Play a Key Role as Messengers in the 115th Congress

The 2016 election cycle broke relatively little ground for women’s representation in Washington.  Aside from Hillary Clinton’s failure to shatter the ultimate glass ceiling in the presidential election race, the number of women set to serve in the 115th Congress next January remains stagnant.  Among the Republican majority, women actually lost seats in the House of Representatives.  While the newly re-elected Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, has stated that 2017 was going to be about “doing big things for our country, ” it is worth considering the role that Republican women officeholders will play as policy makers and messengers as the Party hopes to enact significant reforms now that Republicans also control the White House.  

Based on two important measures of clout, the number of women serving in party leadership and as committee chairs, Republican women’s voice as leaders in formulating in those “big things” promised by the Speaker may be muted.  However, their voice as messengers to articulate the Party’s vision may be more prominent as Republicans continue to grapple with expanding their base of voters to include more women.

Come January, Republican women will again serve in the majority but in slightly smaller numbers than they did in the previous Congress with two fewer members.  Twenty-one Republican women will serve in the House.  Kelly Ayotte, the sole Republican woman senator up for re-election in this cycle, lost her race which brings the total number of Republican women senators serving in the institution to five.  Republican women in both chambers account for less than 10 percent of their party’s caucuses.  By comparison, Democratic women members significantly outnumber their Republican counterparts and, by virtue of the party’s minority status with fewer Democratic members, account for a much larger percentage, about a third, of their party’s caucuses in each chamber.  Further, Republican women’s underrepresentation is also seen by their general absence in party leadership and as committee chairs.

Republican party leadership in the House and Senate is almost entirely comprised of white men.  Cathy McMorris Rodgers was renamed as House Republican Conference Chair while Mimi Walters was named as sophomore representative. Of the nearly two dozen House committees, only two Republican women will serve as chairs; Virginia Foxx will chair the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Susan Brooks will chair the Committee on Ethics. Two Republican women will chair Senate committees – Lisa Murkowski on Energy and Natural Resources, and Susan Collins on Aging.  There are no Republican women in formal Senate leadership positions, although in the 114th Congress Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appointed four “counsels” to broaden Senate leadership, two of whom were women.

Previously, Republicans were open in recognizing the importance of women leaders.  Indeed, in 2014, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers stated, “Messengers are important, and having a broad spectrum of members who represent that background – youth, women, Hispanics, every walk of life – is important.”  More recently, however, Republicans have not only rejected the idea of gender diversity within the Party as a goal but dismissed it as “identity politics” embraced by the losing Democrats.  Republican pollster and Trump campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, agreed with Bernie Sanders who recently called on Democrats to move away from “identity politics.” Sanders advocated for a focus on progressive issues instead. 

Republican women seeking elective office may have cause to downplay their gender on the campaign trail.  Danielle Thomsen finds that Republican women candidates are disadvantaged in contested primaries as they are incorrectly perceived to be less conservative than their male primary opponents.    Moreover,  in the important area of campaign fundraising, Melody Crowder-Meyer and Rosalyn Cooperman find that Democratic and Republican donors differentially prioritize using money to increase the number of women representatives.  Karin Kitchens and Michele Swers find that campaign finance networks available to Republican women candidates, particularly in primaries, is significantly underdeveloped. For their part, rank and file Republicans express a similar disinterest in gender diversity.  In an October 2016 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey, a majority of Americans (58 percent) believe the country would be better off if there were more women serving in public office. However, the support for women serving differs significantly based on respondents’ party affiliation. More than three quarters (77 percent) of Democrats agree but fewer than four in ten (37 percent) of Republicans – including only 42 percent of Republican women – agree that the country would be better off with more women holding public office.  In other words, if anyone is bothered by the low profile of Republican women members in the Republican-led Congress, it’s probably not Republicans. 

And yet despite these myriad challenges, Republican women members will likely serve an important and highly visible role in promoting the Party’s message in the 115th Congress, particularly in articulating components of the House Republicans’ “Better Way” vision and Republican Party policy messages more broadly.   Melissa Deckman’s work on Tea Party women illustrates how conservative women frame conservative issues in women-friendly ways.  For example, women leaders on the right argue that cutting taxes is good for American families as it allows them to spend money as they best see fit; or, they maintain that lowering the national debt safeguards future generations.  As congressional Republicans work to address policy priorities like replacing the Affordable Care Act, reforming the tax code, or overhauling immigration regulations, Republican women members are particularly well suited to articulate why these policies will benefit American families. 

In the 2016 election, Republicans performed exceptionally well with white working class men and women.  Even so, the Party faces challenges in appealing to women voters, particularly college-educated women and women of color, as it becomes an even whiter, mostly male party in its leadership.  In the 115th Congress there will be fewer Republican women members than in Congresses past.  Despite the Party’s rejection of identity politics, party leaders will likely rely heavily on these Republican women members to articulate a policy vision that is both women and family friendly if they wish to remain in control of Congress.   

House Leadership Shake-Up – a Missed Opportunity for Women?


The upcoming resignation of Speaker John Boehner created a vacancy on the Republican House leadership ladder, with the anticipated succession of current Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to the speakership. Would this be the moment to add another woman to the largely male team? Apparently not, with the most logical choice, current GOP Conference Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) choosing to keep her current role rather than seeking to succeed McCarthy. That left no space for Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), who had expressed interest in the conference chair  spot  if McMorris Rodgers had run for Majority Leader.

Leadership roles in the 114th Congress are largely the province of men on both sides of the aisle. In the Senate, Patty Murray (D-WA) is Democratic Conference Secretary, and the only woman chairing a committee is Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who leads the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. On the House side, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), still the only woman ever to serve as Speaker, has led her party in the House for more than 12 years and remains Democratic Leader. McMorris Rodgers is the sole woman in the GOP leadership, and just one woman, Rep. Candice S. Miller (R-MI) chairs a House committee.

Looking at the numbers of women in each party’s caucus, it’s clear that the GOP has far fewer women, both numerically and proportionately, than the Democrats.  Women make up almost a third of the Democratic members of Congress, but less than one eighth of the Republicans.

 

Democratic Women/
Total Democrats (%)
Republican Women/
Total Republicans (%)

Total Women

Senate
14/46 (30.4%)
6/54 (11.1%)
20/100 (20%)
House
62/188 (33.0%)
22/247 (8.9%)
84/435 (19.3%)

 
This means that when openings arise, Republicans don’t have a deep bench from which to choose a woman to step up to the plate. And while it’s far too early for meaningful numbers, CAWP’s list of potential candidates for 2016 congressional elections already shows similarly disproportionate numbers building (perhaps because the tally so far includes mostly incumbents and fewer challengers or seekers of open seats).

While many argue that the gender of candidates and officeholders is insignificant, CAWP has decades of research demonstrating varied ways in which women from both parties change both the process of politics and the issues that reach the public docket.  Although the contentious clamor of the presidential race makes 2016 seem very close indeed, and although some filing deadlines for 2016 races are as early as November or December of 2015, there’s still time for women to step forward to run – if not for Congress, certainly for state legislatures and local offices. That’s the only route to building the numbers so women are in place and ready to claim leadership roles in the future.   

Women in the 114th Congress

 

When the 114th Congress convenes today, 104 women (76D, 28R) will serve among the 535 members, representing 19.4% of the new Congress. Four more women will serve as non-voting delegates to the House from American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. Twenty women (14D, 6R) will serve in the Senate (20%) and 84 women (62D, 22R) will serve in the House (19.3%). At the close of the 113th Congress, one hundred women (77D, 23R) held office, including 20 women (16D, 4R) in the Senate and 80 women (61D, 19R) in the House. Before Representative Alma Adams’ (NC-12) victory in November’s special election, 99 women (76D, 23R) served in the 113th Congress. The net increase in women’s representation is five, or 0.9%, since the fall election.

Women in the 114th Congress, by Chamber

WomenCongress114thJust under one-third of women members in the 114th Congress are women of color. A record 32 women of color (29D, 3R) will serve in the House, making up 38% of women in that chamber. In the Senate, however, Mazie Hirono (D-HI) remains the only woman of color among 20 female members (5%). Thirty women of color (28D, 2R) served in the 113th Congress before November, increasing by one (31: 29D, 2R) with Adams’ special election.

 New Women

Among all women who will serve, 14 women are newly elected to their chambers. Two women (2R) are newcomers to the U.S. Senate: former Representative Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Joni Ernst (R-IA). Twelve women (7D, 5R) are newcomers to the U.S. House: Martha McSally (R-AZ); Norma Torres (D-CA); Mimi Walters (R-CA); Gwen Graham (D-FL); Debbie Dingell (D-MI); Brenda Lawrence (D-MI); Alma Adams (D-NC);[1] Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ); Kathleen Rice (D-NY); Elise Stefanik (R-NY); Mia Love (R-UT); Barbara Comstock (R-VA). The new delegate is Stacey Plaskett (D-VI). Nearly half of the new members of the House, 5 of 12 (41.7%), are women of color: Adams, Lawrence, Love, Torres, and Watson Coleman. Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) is also among the new Black women in Congress. Utah’s Love is the first Black Republican woman to serve in Congress. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), age 30, is the youngest woman to serve in Congress, taking over that title from former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, who was 31 when she took office in 1973.

New Women in Congress, by Chamber and Congress

WomenCongressFreshmanStates Four states – IA, NJ, UT, and VA – will go from no women representing them in the 113th Congress to one woman in their congressional delegations in 2015. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) is the first woman ever to serve in Congress from Iowa. Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Mia Love (R-UT) are the first Black women to represent their states in Congress. Representative Barbara Comstock (R-VA) is the first woman to serve in Virginia’s congressional delegation in two decades. Two states – PA and LA – will go from having one woman representing them in the 113th Congress to no women in their congressional delegations in 2015. They will join 11 other states that continue to have all-male delegations in Washington: AR, DE, GA, ID, KY, MS, MT, OK, RI, SC, and VT. Among these states, MS and VT have never had women in their congressional delegations; the others have had women in the past. Parties As the Republicans take over both chambers of Congress, women represent 9.3% of all majority members (38 of 301). Women are 11.1% of all Republicans in the Senate (6 of 54) and just 8.9% of all Republicans in the House (22 of 247) in 2015. Despite Republican gains overall in the 2014 elections, Republican women remain a small percentage of their congressional caucuses. In the 113th Congress, Republican women were 8.2% of all Republican members, including 8.9% of Republican Senators and 8.1% of Republican Representatives. Democratic women, on the other hand, represent one-third of all Democratic members of Congress in 2015 (76 of 234). Women are 30.4% of all Democrats in the Senate (14 of 46) and 33% of all Democrats in the House (62 of 188). In the 113th Congress, Democratic women were 30.3% of all Democratic members, including 30.2% of Democratic Senators and 30.3% of Democratic Representatives.

Women in Party Caucuses, by Chamber and Congress

WomenCongressCaucuses


[1] Adams will serve in her first full term in the 114th Congress, also serving two months at the conclusion of the 113th Congress.

Expanding Leadership Opportunities for Women Veterans

By Jean Sinzdak, Director, Program for Women Public Officials, Center for American Women and Politics ernstIn January, Joni Ernst (R-IA) will be among the 104 women serving in the 114th US Congress.  In addition to being the first woman elected to represent Iowa in Washington, Ernst made history in November as the first woman veteran elected to serve in the US Senate.  She will join fellow veterans Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), who made history in 2012 as the first female combat veterans elected to serve in the US House, and Martha McSally, who was elected to the House this year from Arizona. With these additions, six women veterans will have served in Congress. (Former Representatives Catherine Small Long (D-LA), Heather Wilson (R-NM), and Sandy Adams (R-FL) round out the group.) mcsallyCAWP’s research indicates that women bring different priorities and experiences to public life, and women officeholders help make government more transparent, inclusive and accessible. Women public officials – elected and appointed – have an impact on public policy that ultimately affects the entire population of the state, region and nation. Today there are an estimated 2.2 million female veterans, and they represent one of the fastest growing segments of the veteran population – about 10 percent of the total 22 million veterans in this country.   Women veterans have already put their country first by serving in the military; they are exactly the kind of people we need as public leaders. And recognizing the distinctive experiences of women in the armed services, it’s clear that women vets will bring especially valuable insights to Congress. CAWP has partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Center for Women Veterans to help women veterans develop skill sets to prepare them for public and community service opportunities within their communities. The Center for Women Veterans, created in 1994 to monitor the VA’s administration of benefits and services to women Veterans and to advise the Secretary on the VA policy’s impact on Women Veterans, will advise CAWP on how it focuses its resource information to address women veterans’ issues.  “Women veterans often contact us for information about how they can continue serving,” says Elisa M. Basnight, director of the Center for Women Veterans. “This agreement with CAWP presents a prime opportunity for the Center to help prepare them for other forms of public service as it responds to a persistent need women veterans tell us they have, which is the desire to continue to make a difference after the uniform.” CAWP is also partnering with Veterans Campaign, a program of the National Association for Uniformed Services, on a female leadership workshop at their Veterans Campaign Training, which will be held on Feb. 21-25, 2015 in Washington, DC.  In addition, women veterans (and any women!) can attend one of the Ready to Run® programs hosted by CAWP or our partners around the country – upcoming programs can be found here.  Additional campaign trainings and leadership programs can be found on CAWP’s national Political & Leadership Resources for Women map. For more information about and other resources for women veterans, you can also visit the Center for Women Veterans.

Breaking Even: Women in the U.S. Senate

Slide2It’s official. We started election 2014 with 20 women in the U.S. Senate and we will enter the 114th Congress with 20 women in the U.S. Senate. With Senator Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) defeat this weekend, the status quo is upheld. However, the make-up of the women members will be different in 2015. Two new women senators were elected in 2014, including Representative Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and State Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA). They take the place of two women who were defeated in their bids for re-election: one-term incumbent Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) and three-term incumbent Mary Landrieu (D-LA).  As a result, the partisan make-up of the women senators will shift from 80 to 70 percent Democratic; 14 Democratic women and 6 Republican women will serve in the 114th Congress. And while no records were broken for the number of women candidates, nominees, or winners in U.S. Senate races this year, both female newcomers do make history as the first female Senators from their states. In fact, Ernst becomes the first woman ever sent to Congress from the state of Iowa. Together, Capito, Ernst, and the 4 current Republican women senators will make up the largest class of Republican women to serve at one time in the U.S. Senate. Incumbents Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) were re-elected in 2014, but only 4 of 15 total female Senate nominees were successful this year. This year’s four female winners join the 16 women senators not up for re-election this year, including only one woman of color: Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI). While many celebrated the jump to 20 women in the Senate after the 2012 elections, election 2014 serves as a reminder that the pace of progress for women in the U.S. Senate is inconsistent and, most striking, slow. That pace is unlikely to quicken without a steady increase in the number of women candidates filing for competitive seats and making it through their primaries. womeninsenateThe balance of gender power in the U.S. Senate is not only measured in overall numbers, but also in the power women hold in party and committee leadership. Due to the shift in party power from the 113th to 114th Congress, Democratic women who currently hold 9 committee chairmanships and co-chairmanships will lose their leadership posts. There are fewer Republican women with the seniority needed to win these positions, making it likely that the number of women committee chairs will decline in the 114th Congress. Republican women will also make up a much smaller proportion of the Republican caucus (11.1%) than Democratic women's proportion of the Democratic caucus (30.4%), presenting another potential hurdle to their influence in agenda-setting and strategy discussions within the majority party. Five more women senators will be up for re-election in 2016, but it will take a larger class of nominees for open seats or as competitive challengers to see significant change in women’s representation in the upper chamber of Congress in the next election.

When 100 isn’t a passing grade: A closer look at Women in Congress

One of the most circulated “women’s stories” of this week’s election has been the celebration of reaching 100 women in Congress. Because Alma Adams (D-NC) was elected in both her special election and general election contest, she will be sworn in to the 113th Congress next week and cause the number of women in the House to move from 79 to 80, and thus the overall number of women in Congress to reach 100 from 99. Reaching this marker is no small feat, as those of us who study and work with women in politics know. Just over two decades ago, in the 102nd Congress, only one-third (32) as many women served. Even more, it was not until Shirley Chisholm’s election to the House in 1968 that a Black woman served in Congress. Alma Adams becomes the 32nd Black women to serve in Congress, and was one of four new Black women members elected to the 114th Congress on Tuesday.[1] In fact, women of color will make up over one-third of the House women’s caucus in 2015, as they have in the 113th Congress.

First, those 100 women in Congress serve in a 535-member body (combining House and Senate). Doing the math yields a number far less worthy of celebration: 18.7%. Even with 100 members, women are less than one-fifth of Congress, despite being over 50% of the U.S. population. Second, we hit 100 women in Congress congress_swearin-4_3on Tuesday from a starting point of 99. Even if all remaining races with women candidates break in their favor, only 105 women will serve in the 114th Congress. That’s a net increase of six in the best case scenario for women, indicating a pace of progress that’s hardly impressive. Third, even among new members of Congress, women remain seriously underrepresented. According to the latest numbers of new members of the 114th Congress (with some races still undecided), women will be 19% of the freshman class. This isn’t terribly surprising when women make up a similarly low proportion of nominees going into Election Day. I don’t point out these statistics to discount the success of the women who put themselves forward for congressional offices this year. They are on the front lines of progress, doing what’s needed to disrupt the relatively stagnant trends I note here. For example, our two new women senators are the first women elected to the U.S. Senate from their states. Among the new women in the House, Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Mia Love (R-UT) are the first Black women from their states to serve in Congress. They are joined by female trailblazers at other levels of office this year, from Gina Raimondo’s election as the first woman governor of Rhode Island to the addition of 10 new Republican women in statewide elected executive offices nationwide. Rhode Island’s newly-elected Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea is the first Latina elected statewide in all of the northeast, Evelyn Sanguinetti (Illinois) was elected as the nation's first Latina Lieutenant Governor, and Maura Healey will become the first openly LGBT person to serve as a state’s Attorney General next year. We should not overlook or reduce the accomplishments of these women, but I raise the concerns above to ensure that the narrative of women’s success is not so overstated by one statistic that it yields complacency. We can all take a minute to celebrate this marker of women’s progress, and more importantly the women who’ve marked it, but let’s also note where 100 falls short and what we can do to move well beyond it in elections to come.

 
For more information on how women candidates fared at all levels of office on Tuesday, see CAWP's post-election press release.
[1] Other new Black women members include: Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Mia Love (UT-4). Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) was also elected as a non-voting delegate.

#WomenRun2014: House Outlook

We’re launching our week-long countdown to the midterm elections with the outlook for women running for the U.S. House of Representatives. While we have not seen record numbers of women candidates or nominees this cycle, we may see a record number of women serving in the U.S. House come January 2015. Candidates and Nominees HouseCands3Two hundred and forty-nine (154D, 95R) women filed to run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014. The record for women House candidates was set in 2012, with 298 (190D, 108R) women filing to run for seats in the lower chamber of Congress. This year, 158 (108D, 50R) women have won their primaries and 2 (1D, 1R) more women will be on the November 4th ballot in Louisiana’s same-day primary. The record for women House nominees was set in 2012, with 166 (118D, 48R) women making it through their party primaries.[1]

HouseNomsWinners2It’s important to look at the types of contests in which women are running to determine their likelihood of winning. In 2014, 18 (11D, 7R) women are nominees for open U.S. House seats, compared to the record high of 39 (26D, 13R) women running for open seats in 1992. As the charts below show, women have fallen short of making history as candidates, nominees, or open seat nominees in either major political party this year. However, while the number of female nominees dropped between 2012 and 2014 for Democratic women House candidates, there was a slight increase, from 48 to 50 nominees, among Republican women candidates, with the Louisiana race still pending.

HouseOpenSeatNoms2 HouseCandsParty HouseNomsPartyWomen in the 114th Congress
It is likely that we will see an increase in the total number of women serving in the U.S. House in the 114th Congress from our current class of 79 (60D, 19R) women members and 2 (2D) female delegates, but the size of that increase depends on how the most contentious races of this cycle break for women candidates. While we know that we will lose six (4D, 2R) current women members and one (1D) female delegate to retirements and bids for other offices, there are six (5D, 1R) women candidates and one (1D) female delegate very likely to become new members of the 114th Congress, based on the most recent ratings from Cook Political Report. Another 4 (1D, 3R) new women are rated as likely or leaning to win House seats this year. Finally, 4 (3D, 1R) possible new women members and 3 (3D) female incumbents are competing in contests rated as toss-ups by the Cook Political Report as of last week. NewHouseWomen2 Five of the eight new women most likely to win House seats, as well as delegate candidate Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), are women of color. If these new women win and all Black female incumbents are re-elected, a record 18 (17D, 1R) Black women members and 2 (2D) non-voting Black women delegates will serve in the 114th Congress. VulnHouseWomen2In 2012, 19 (16D, 3R) new women were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. We are very unlikely to meet or exceed that number of new women winning this year. NewHouseWomen3What to Watch on Election Day In addition to tracking the numbers of women winning U.S. House seats on Election Day and closely monitoring the most competitive races with women running (see table above), we will be watching these races where women have the potential to make history:
  • AZ-2: Republican Martha McSally, if elected, will be the first Republican woman ever elected to Congress from Arizona.
  • IA-3: Democrat Staci Appel, if elected, will be the first woman ever elected to the U.S. House from Iowa. Iowa is one of four states (DE, IA, MS, VT) that has never sent a woman to Congress.
  • NJ-12: Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman, if elected, will be the first Black woman elected to Congress from New Jersey. She will also be the first woman in New Jersey’s congressional delegation since 2003.
  • NY-21: Republican Elise Stefanik, if elected, will be the youngest woman ever sworn in to Congress at age 30. The youngest women to be sworn in to date were 31 years old.
  • UT-4: Republican Mia Love, if elected, will be the first Black Republican woman to be elected to Congress. She will also be the first Black woman, and only the fourth woman, to ever serve in Utah’s congressional delegation.
  • VA-10: Republican Barbara Comstock, if elected, will be the first woman in Virginia’s congressional delegation since 2009.
Finally, while four states with no women currently serving in the U.S. House (Iowa, New Jersey, Utah, Virginia) have the potential to add women members to their 114th congressional delegations, Pennsylvania is very likely to have no women in its congressional delegation as of January 2015. For the latest numbers and information about women running for office in 2014, visit CAWP's Election Watch 2014 and check out tomorrow's post on women running for the U.S. Senate this year. You can also follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter by using the hashtag #WomenRun2014.
[1] Three (2D, 1R) women won primaries but then dropped out in 2012, leaving 163 nominees running on Election Day.

Numbers Matter: Black Women in American Politics

This week, the Center for American Women and Politics and Higher Heights released The Status of Black Women in American Politics, a report that takes a snapshot of Black women’s current political representation and participation and reflects back on the historical advancement of Black women as voters, candidates, and elected and appointed officials. This report identifies and outlines the problem of Black women’s underrepresentation and serves as a call to action for citizens, advocates, potential candidates, and those in political power. I wrote this report over multiple HHAReportCover(1)months, poring through CAWP’s databases of women candidates and elected officials and gathering new data on Black women and men in politics to provide the most comprehensive possible analysis. . Throughout these months, I – a scholar of women and politics accustomed to the significant gender disparities in political power – was continually surprised by the dearth of Black women in elected office at all levels and throughout our states and cities. I was shocked when I realized that Black women have represented fewer than 30 different congressional districts in only 13 states in all of U.S. history and disturbed that I could count the number of Black women who have ever served in statewide elected executive offices on two hands. I was even more taken aback upon noting that 77% of the Black women who have served in Congress and 9 of the 10 Black women who have been elected to statewide executive offices have entered office since 1993. While these data make evident the delay in Black women’s political advancement, this recent history of representational growth demonstrates enormous opportunities for continued progress and power. To ensure that progress, organizations like Higher Heights are working to build a stronger infrastructure of support for Black women candidates and urging Black women to harness their power at the ballot box --  not only to amplify their own political voices, but also to support (and become) the much-needed Black women officeholders. The research proves that advancing Black women’s representation is not only a matter of democratic fairness, but influences policy agendas and debates, as well as the political engagement of underrepresented constituencies. There is much more work to do to in harnessing Black women’s political power, but this report provides an important foundation upon which to foster dialogue and identify opportunities for growth. Why? Because numbers matter. Numbers validate perceptions of inequality. Numbers illuminate the sites for and extent of those disparities. Numbers demonstrate how much work we have left to do. Finally, numbers are power in making the case for change. Take a few minutes to arm yourself with the numbers that resonate most for you from our report. Then please share them with your networks to help us continue the conversation that we began Thursday on harnessing the political power of Black women. On social media, use the hashtag #BlackWomenLead.  

Sometimes the Best Political Role Model is your Mom

Often when we talk about political role models, we think of the most visible politicians: the President, a prominent historical figure or a current newsmaker. We assume we can learn most about politics by emulating those who hold the greatest political power. But this Mother’s Day, I’d like to make the case that some of our best political role models in life are our moms – whether they identify as political or not. Moms play an essential role in shaping their daughters’ (and sons’) perceptions of service, politics, and leadership. According to research done by Dove, 66% of girls say their primary role model is their mom. At a pivotal age for developing confidence and character, girls look to their mothers for guidance and watch carefully the behaviors they espouse and the values they prescribe. My mom – relatively apolitical by traditional standards – has been my political role model. First, she embodies the ideal of service to others above herself. Whether caring for her children, her parents, or her clients, my mom reminds me that making someone else’s world a bit better brightens yours. Second, my mom has always been a leader. Both in and out of the household, my mom has never stepped down from a challenge, has been a source of support and stability for her family and her community, and has paired independence of thought and action with recognition of the interconnectedness among all of us. Third, my mom embodies retail politics. While she might just call it “being friendly,” my mom’s ability to empathize with nearly everyone she meets is a skill for which many politicians (and their staffs) strive. As Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) recently said about her own mother at CAWP’s Lipman lecture, “I’ll tell you who I’m glad I never had to run against: my mother.” Same here, Congresswoman. Finally, my mom instilled in me the values that inspire me today to engage in politics and to encourage others to do the same. My mom lives her life based on a very simple motto: “do good things.” Watching her work to make the world just a little better than she found it compels me to do the same. For her, that means making a difference in the daily lives of the elderly by providing direct care. For me, it means getting more women in political leadership and taking an active role in policy debates and discussions.
U.S. Presidential candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) speaks on stage with her mother Dorothy Rodham, during a rally in Des Moines Hillary Clinton with mother Dorothy Rodham in 2008

I’m in good company in crediting my mom for my political drive. Hillary Clinton frequently credits her mother – Dorothy Rodham – for her intellectual drive, curiosity, strength, and perseverance. The late Geraldine Ferraro often cited her widowed mother, Antonetta, as both her inspiration and most solid source of support. She said, “Nobody had greater confidence in me than my mother,” and that confidence was essential when Ferraro became the first woman to run on a major party presidential ticket. At the recent 100th birthday celebration for her mother, Luisa, , Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) shared a similar admiration for the longest-serving alderman in New Haven history: “My mother has been my greatest inspiration. She taught me the most valuable of lessons. My mother knew the importance of helping people – she understood that politics was an avenue for change.” Congresswoman Susan Brooks (R-IN) also credits her mother and father for instilling in her a commitment to helping others: “We didn’t grow up with a lot of wealth,” she’s said, “but I watched (my parents) make significant contributions to the lives of a lot of people.” She added, “That’s what I’ve strived to do –– work hard, be ethical, be very grateful for all that I have, and help those less fortunate. It’s something that drives me.”
YvetteClarkeC20101129BE Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY) with mother Una

The mothers of some women leaders not only taught them the values that inspired their service, but also showed them women could serve in elected office. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY) succeeded her mother Una on the New York City Council before running for Congress. Former Maine legislator, Hannah Pingree, took on her role as Speaker of the State House in the same year that her mother, Chellie Pingree (D-ME), was elected to Congress. Senator Susan Collins’ (R-ME) mother was Mayor of Caribou, Maine and preceded her daughter as an inductee into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame. In Michigan, State Representative Barb Byrum succeeded her mother Dianne in the state’s 67th District seat. Byrum writes of her mother, “It is my mother who knew early on that I would run for public office, even though I was not interested in politics at the time. It is my mother who guided me through life's challenges. My mother did so much more than give me life. She gave me the world.”
269620.JPG A FEA USA Dist. of Columbia Cokie Roberts with mother Lindy Boggs

Some prominent political mothers have pointed their daughters toward other forms of public service. Cokie Roberts, author and political contributor to ABC and NPR, has called her mother, former Congresswoman Lindy Boggs (D-LA), “a trailblazer for women and the disadvantaged.” Her trailblazing no doubt influenced Roberts’ own pathbreaking career, including her work honoring America’s Founding Mothers. Roberts’ sister, Barbara Boggs Sigmund, followed more directly in her mother’s footsteps, serving as a county freeholder and then as mayor of Princeton, NJ from 1983 to 1990. Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, frequently talks about channeling her mother, Ann Richards, in her leadership of one of the country’s largest women’s advocacy organizations. Calling the former Governor of Texas her “touchstone for pretty much everything,” Richards has said, “She always said to me, ‘If a new opportunity comes, you just have to take it.’ I think in my day-to-day life I try to channel a little bit of Ann in that.” Whether we channel our mothers in running for office, advocacy, or everyday forms of leadership, they play spark our desire and give us the tools to change the world in our own ways. The personal is indeed political, and the promise of a new generation of women leaders relies on the trailblazing women who have preceded them. So this Mother’s Day, take a minute to give thanks to the moms in your life who have helped you grow, and consider how the seemingly apolitical lessons they’ve taught you can translate into political action and leadership. In considering your run for political office, channel mom.

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