Could women lead in the Northeast?

northeastYesterday’s primaries highlighted the success of women as gubernatorial nominees in three northeastern states: Massachusetts (Martha Coakley), New Hampshire (Maggie Hassan), and Rhode Island (Gina Raimondo). While Governor Hassan was elected two years ago, the potential election of Coakley and Raimondo in November would add two new women governors to a region where Hassan is currently the sole female at the helm. Both women also have the potential to make history; Gina Raimondo would be the first woman governor in Rhode Island and Martha Coakley would be the first woman elected governor in Massachusetts, where Jane Swift was elected lieutenant governor and became governor from 2001 to 2003 after the incumbent governor resigned (see CAWP’s fact sheet on the history of women governors). If all three women are elected in November, women will serve as governors in one-third of northeastern states, and two-thirds of all northeastern states can say they have had women governors. Finally, based on election forecasts, it’s possible that nearly half of the women elected governor this year will be from the Northeast (see CAWP’s Election Watch 2014).  These facts cut both ways; there is potential for a record number of women governors serving simultaneously from the region, but with 36 gubernatorial seats up this year and only nine women earning nominations, we’re unlikely to break any nationwide records for women serving as top state executives. Even more, three northeastern states have still never elected women governors (ME, NY, and PA).

Primary results from yesterday’s contests in MA, NH, NY, and RI also yielded some strong numbers for women down ballot. In Massachusetts, this fall’s ballot will include female major party nominees for five of the state’s six statewide elected executive posts. In Rhode Island, three of five statewide elected executive elections will include female major party nominees. And while Governor Hassan holds and will run for re-election to the state’s only elected executive post, she will be joined on the ballot by women candidates for each congressional race (including a woman-versus-woman race in CD 2), with the potential to uphold New Hampshire’s history-making status as the only state with an all-female congressional delegation and woman governor. Connecticut, which held its primary last month, nominated women to run for four of six statewide elected executive posts, with two women competing against each other to be lieutenant governor. In New York, however, lieutenant governor nominee Kathy Hochul is the only woman in a general election bid for statewide elected executive office this year.

Other northeastern states will be similarly low on women in statewide elected executive offices next year, with no women competing for posts in PA (where Allyson Schwartz and Kathleen McGinty were defeated in the primary race for governor) or ME (where governor is the only statewide elected post). Incumbent State Treasurer Beth Pearce will seek re-election to one of Vermont’s six statewide elected executive offices, and, with no female congressional candidates this year, that state will continue to be one of only four states that has never sent a woman to Congress.

New Jersey, where a woman holds one of two statewide elected posts, is the only northeastern state not holding statewide executive elections this year.

Recent analyses have questioned whether there are glass ceilings for women in the Northeast, especially in statehouses, and yesterday’s results do not provide any definitive proof that those ceilings have been or will be broken. However, they evidence some noteworthy progress and potential for making history this year, and a promise of more stories to tell after November 4th.

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.

 

A Women’s Political Committee Celebrates 25 Years

The following is a guest blog is the final post in a series of three pieces written by Susan Rose. Susan Rose served for eight years on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and is the former executive director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women. She is a member of the board of trustees of Antioch University Santa Barbara. In the following piece, Susan highlights the important work done by the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee as it celebrates its 25th anniversary. This piece spotlights the type of work that is integral to advancing women’s political power and influence, the focus of part 1 and part 2 of this series.

By Susan Rose

The years 2012 and 2013 were times for celebrations and political victories for the feminist movement. Ms magazine celebrated its 40th year of publication and  Jan. 22, 2013 was the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that established the fundamental right to abortion. On the central coast of California, the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee (SBWPC) celebrated its 25th anniversary and years of political victories.

This PAC began in the late 1980’s, when a small group of women in Santa Barbara met for several months to discuss the lack of women in public office.  Over time, the group expanded and included a list of who’s who among female activists in the community.  (In full disclosure, the author was also a founding mother.)

SBWPC asked the question, “can women have a significant impact at the local level?” Reflecting on 25 years of political activities, the answer was an unqualified yes.  Using an activist model, these feminists created a pipeline to elective office and demonstrated that change can occur on the local level.

The SBWPC was born in January of 1988 with a  reception that brought out 250 women and men.  Betty Friedan was the keynote speaker. They quickly built a membership base that today includes both women and men.The time was right to organize!

From the beginning, the SBWPC defined itself as a feminist organization.  Its mission states: “The Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee is dedicated to furthering gender equality and other feminist values through political and social action, and educational activities.  As a political action committee, we endorse the candidacies of women and men who actively support our goals and promote a feminist agenda.” During these last 25 years, the SBWPC has pursued the goal of gender equality and social change by electing women to public office.

In 1988, the SBWPC endorsed the candidacies of  Dianne Owens and Gloria Ochoa, the first women to serve on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.  The smell of victory was sweet and led to more women entering the political realm to run for office.

Since SBWPC’s founding, women have comprised as much as 80% of the County Board of Supervisors, served as mayors and District Attorney, and held seats in both houses of the state legislature. They also hold many positions on school boards and local commissions.  Not to mention, since 1999 Santa Barbara County has been represented by a woman in Congress.

During its 25 years, the SBWPC has endorsed and contributed financial support to 95 candidates.  A total of fifty-six of those were women (59%).  Only four of the women lost. All candidates supported the feminist agenda.

The SBWPC’s success is best demonstrated by its impact on public policy. Legislation and programs introduced by women elected to office in Santa Barbara has covered a broad range of issues including breast cancer, children, domestic violence, education, the environment, healthcare, housing, homelessness, human services, living wage, rape kits and reproductive rights.

In its early days, the SBWPC board of directors created a set of tools that enabled them to elect feminist women to office.  These tools included: position papers, recruitment strategies, campaign skills workshops, candidate assessment teams, endorsements, state and federal PAC money, and media support.

The position papers formed the basis for the organization’s feminist agenda and the criteria by which candidates received endorsements.  The  issues covered in the papers range from childcare to the ERA to immigration and reproductive rights.These tools are still in place today and guide the board in their process of endorsing candidates.

Many of the first candidates to be endorsed by the PAC were founding board members, creating an early pipeline to elected office. In the current political climate, there is not only unfinished business for the feminist agenda but an imperative need to secure the gains that have been made.  To do that, more women must run for national office starting with local and statewide candidacies.

Today, the SBWPC has a standing pipeline committee that focuses on recruiting women for future elections.  This committee is key to the continuing success of the organization.  Due to term limits in many local and state offices, more women need to be ready to run when vacancies occur.  As part of their function, this committee actively reaches out to prospective candidates.

While other feminist organizations have declined or disbanded, the SBWPC has been able to sustain itself over 25 years because of a diverse board of women and a membership committed to addressing issues that are current and compelling.

With the help of the 24 women on the board of directors, the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee has created a culture where women in public office are the norm not the exception. These women have achieved political and electoral success by grass roots organizing, marching, mentoring, advocating and campaigning both through community activism and social media.  They are dedicated and committed to making a difference in the lives of women.

The organizational model developed by the SBWPC has been tried and tested locally over the years and can be replicated in other communities. “All politics are local” said former speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill.  He was right.

Preparing Women to Run and Win Elected Office

The following is a guest blog re-posted from Women’s eNews as the second in a series of three pieces written by Susan Rose. Susan Rose served for eight years on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and is the former executive director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women. She is a member of the board of trustees of Antioch University Santa Barbara. In the following piece, Susan discusses  efforts to encourage and support women’s candidacies nationwide. The first piece in the series chronicled the difference women have made in California. The final piece, which will be posted next week, will highlight the role that women’s PACs can play in these efforts.

By Susan Rose

On the sidelines of all the primary campaigns going on right now we also have a less-visible but important nationwide effort focused on gender equality in political office.

It is aimed at women who have not considered running for political office as well as those who have been thinking about it and need encouragement to declare.

Recruitment is the key to achieving this goal. “If women run, women win,” says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Emerge America is the fastest-growing national political organization recruiting women to run for office. Founded in 2005, it is currently working in 14 states to recruit and train Democratic women to run for office. (Emerge California was founded earlier in 2002.)

Each December, Emerge begins an intensive seven-month, 70-hour training model that to date has trained 1,275 women. Since 2002, 47 percent of its graduates have run for office or been appointed to a board or commission. This year, it has 179 women running for office. Six are running for Congress in the states of California, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada and Wisconsin.

Emerge success stories include Oregon’s Val Hoyle, who won a seat in the state legislature in 2009 and is now the Oregon house majority leader, and Wisconsin’s JoCasta Zamarripa, who became the first Latina elected to the Wisconsin legislature in 2010 and is now the Democratic caucus vice-chair.

In 2014 women have continued to lose ground in elected office across the country, finds a data analysis by the Center for American Women and Politics. The number of women running has decreased and too few are waiting in the pipeline to run when openings occur.

In their 2005 book “It Takes a Candidate,” Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox explain why women don’t run for office as frequently as men. Their research shows that:

  • Women put families and careers first, entering politics would be a “third job;”
  • Women believe they are not qualified;
  • Women are not recruited to be candidates by their political parties.

Lawless and Fox argue that the gender gap in political ambition is derived from “traditional gender socialization.” The proliferation and evolution of women’s political organizations have the potential to turn this around.

New and Old Groups

Traditional women’s groups have stepped up their game and new ones are appearing on the political horizon. These organizations have created a national political infrastructure to recruit, support and train women to run for office.

The American Association of University Women, founded in 1881, has a program Elect Her that trains college women to run for student government on campuses with the goal of developing a future interest in political office. This academic year 50 campuses will host Elect Her trainings.

The National Organization for Women, founded in 1966, established a political action committee in 1977 to endorse feminist candidates in federal elections. With hundreds of state and local chapters throughout the United States, NOW’s PAC currently supports feminist candidates at all political levels.

The NOW Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the national organization, has a voter mobilization effort to “raise awareness of the importance of women’s participation in the political process.”

The Center for American Women and Politics, founded in 1971 and the preeminent academic institution conducting research on issues affecting women running for and holding office, has a variety of booster initiatives. New Leadership, a six-day summer program, “educates college women about the political process and teaches them to become effective leaders.”

Ready to Run is a nonpartisan program that encourages women to run for office, apply for appointments and work on campaigns. Currently, Ready to Run has programs in 14 states. It has been particularly successful in training and electing women of color. As of 2012, the state legislature of New Jersey has 15 women of color, five of whom participated in the Ready to Run training.

Oldest Bipartisan Organization

The National Women’s Political Caucus, founded in 1971, is the oldest bipartisan national organization dedicated to increasing women’s involvement in political and public life. They recruit and train pro-choice candidates for all levels of government. This includes endorsements, financing and training.

The Women’s Campaign Fund, founded in 1974, is bipartisan and dedicated to increasing women in public office who support reproductive rights. Through their PAC and She Should Run programs, the fund provides early financial support to endorsed candidates from school boards to Congress and conducts research to help women gain office. Through its Game Changers program it is announcing new batches of candidates for this year on a rolling basis, with six new names released earlier this week.

Emily’s List (Early Money is Like Yeast) supports pro-choice Democratic female congressional candidates with early funding and training. Since its founding in 1985, the group has raised over $385 million. In the 2011-2012 election cycle, its donors contributed an historic $52 million for candidates.

Emily’s List has helped elect 10 female governors, 102 to the House of Representatives (25 from California) and 19 women to the U.S. Senate. In the Senate, the roster of endorsed women includes such well-known names as Barbara Boxer, Carol Moseley Braun, Hillary Clinton, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Mikulski, Patty Murray and Elizabeth Warren.

In 2013, Emily’s List began placing more staff representatives in local communities to scout for prospective candidates. Emily’s List Southern California Regional Director Heidi Lee points out that “by collaborating with local organizations we foster a greater environment for women to run.”

The Feminist Majority Foundation, founded in 1987, engages in policy development, educational conferences and grass roots organizing. It is affiliated with hundreds of student groups nationwide and has created feminist chapters on college campuses “to foster activism on campuses and to provide tools for leadership development.”

The Republican Majority for Choice, previously known as the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition, joined with Wish List (Women in the Senate and House) in 2010 to recruit, train and support Republican pro-choice female candidates at all levels of government. The group is considered the Republican version of Emily’s List.

California Groups

Some efforts in my home state, California, must also get special mention.

Close the gap Ca was established in 2013 and aims to recruit women for the California state legislature in 2014 and 2016. It identifies candidates and then recruits and connects them to resources needed to run and win elections. By filing time in California (Feb. 12), 76 women had submitted their papers. This stops the “slide” that began in 2012, but is a long way from the high of 97 women who ran in 2010.

Hispanas Organized for Political Equality, HOPE, founded in 1989, works to advance Latinas through education, advocacy and youth leadership training. Through its PAC, the group endorses and contributes to Latina candidates at all levels who “work toward creating public policies that empower Latinas, their families and their communities.”

California Women Lead was founded 40 years ago as an association for elected and appointed women. It provides leadership and campaign trainings throughout California with a focus on women interested in state and local boards and commissions.

“Appointments are an opportunity for women who are trying to balance work and family and to build a resume while preparing to run,” says the group’s executive director, Rachel Michelin.

To achieve gender equality in public office, we need to work harder to recruit more women to run now and to build a pipeline of women who will be future candidates.

Gloria Steinem said it best in the spring edition of Ms. Magazine: “People often ask me if I am passing the torch. I explain that I am keeping my torch, and I’m using it to light the torches of others. Because only if each of us has a torch will there be enough light.”

For more examples of organizations working to support and train women candidates, see CAWP’s Political Resource Map.

Women Make a Difference for Women

The following is a guest blog re-posted from Women’s eNews as the first in a series of three pieces written by Susan Rose. Susan Rose served for eight years on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and is the former executive director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women. She is a member of the board of trustees of Antioch University Santa Barbara. In the following piece, Susan discusses the difference women have made in elected office in her home state of California. The next two pieces, which will be posted over the next two weeks, will focus on efforts to encourage and support women’s candidacies and the role that women’s PACs can play in these efforts.

By Susan Rose

California boasts two female senators.

We are the only state to advance women’s reproductive rights in the last few years.

The state is rapidly moving forward on the Affordable Health Care Act and there has been paid family leave in California since 2002, though it is underused.

But don’t be misled. Even here we have a political gender gap that is actually widening, not closing. The California state legislature has 120 members with 32 seats held by women, around 27 percent, down from 30 percent a decade ago.

Close the Gap CA was founded to counter these losses and is conducting a four-city “Stop the Slide” tour during March to coincide with Women’s History Month. Women’s rights activists and elected officials will be speaking about the “slide” in female representation and encourage women to run for office.

Close the Gap will also be recruiting progressive women to run in 2014 and 2016. Nine women will be termed out of the state legislature in 2014 and fewer women are running for office than in 2010, says Betsy Cotton, director of the initiative.

Does it really matter if women are in public office in equal numbers to men? Yes it does, just check the research that has been piling on for more than 20 years.

In 1991, The Center for Women and American Politics published a series of findings about the impact of women on state legislatures. Women were more likely than men to support feminist and liberal policy positions such as passage of the ERA and support for abortion rights. It found that women were more likely than men to have worked on “women’s right legislation,” including issues affecting children, families and health care.

Michele Swers followed in 2002 with her book on women in Congress, “The Difference Women Make: The Policy Impact of Women in Congress.” She studied the legislative process from bill initiation to the concluding vote and affirmed that women are more likely to “champion women’s issues.”

Benefiting All Constituents

Having more women in office benefits all constituents, U.C. Berkeley and University of Chicago researchers found in their 2011 study “The Jackie and Jill Robinson Effect.” Women bring 9 percent more spending to their districts from federal programs, they found. This translates to about $49 million more income for each district represented by a woman.

In their 2005 book, “It Still Takes a Candidate,” Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox argue that women have different political agendas from those of men. Women emphasize education, the environment, consumer protection, gay rights, health care and helping the poor. Men are more likely to carry bills on agriculture, business and the economy, crime, foreign policy and the military.

Elected women prioritize the social infrastructure. Having served eight years as a California county supervisor, I learned daily that women consider public health to be as much a budget priority as public safety. On the local level, supporting mental health programs and social services becomes as important as fixing streets and patrol cars.

Reviewing the work of women in the California State Legislature during a period from1993 to 2008 revealed that women make a difference for women.

Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis are from Southern California. They served 14 and 10 years

respectively in the state legislature. During their years in Sacramento, Kuehl and Solis carried a series of bills that focused on children, civil rights, domestic violence, education, employment, health care and reproductive rights.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier comes from Northern California and served 18 years in both state houses. Her successful track record of bills passed in California includes issues affecting children, consumer services, domestic violence, education, health care and reproductive rights.

Hannah-Beth Jackson represents the central coast of California. She served six years in the state Assembly and in 2012 was elected to the state Senate. Jackson’s successful legislative record includes numerous bills focused on children, consumer services, domestic violence, education, the environment, health care and reproductive rights.

Last year, the governor signed Jackson’s legislation expanding the definition of family for California’s paid Family Medical Leave Act. (California was the first state in the country to enact paid family leave.) Today, the definition of family in California for paid leave includes seriously ill grandparents, grandchildren, siblings and in-laws.

‘All Is Still Not Well’

Progress for women has been made in California because of dedicated legislators such as Kuehl, Solis, Speier and Jackson.

But all is still not well for women in California. A recent meeting in Sacramento sponsored by the California Center for Research on Women and Families focused on the unmet needs of women in child care, economic empowerment, health care, poverty relief and Title IX implementation. The California Center’s executive director, Kate Karpilow, hopes to “push women’s issues to the forefront of the legislative agenda.”

In the last several cycles the state has balanced its budget on the backs of women and children. Today 1-in-4 children and 1-in-3 single mothers in California live in poverty, according to the Women’s Foundation of California.

The most recent Shriver Report, “A Woman’s Nation Pushed Back from the Brink,” found that nationally 42 million American women and 28 million children are living in poverty.

To rise out of poverty, women need job training and job programs; an increased minimum wage; equal pay for equal work; and family justice programs including child care, paid family leave, paid sick leave and flexible work schedules.

Data from the Center for American Women in Politics show that women still have a long way to go to reach gender balance in office. In the U.S. Senate there are 20 of 100 seats held by women and in the House of Representatives, only 79 of the 535 seats are held by women. The average for both houses combined is about 19 percent.

Across the United States, women hold five of the 50 governorships and about 24 percent of state legislature elected offices. This is an increase of only 2 percent in the last 10 years.

If we are to succeed as a nation, there must be equal representation of women in elected office. “When women succeed, America succeeds,” said President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address on Jan. 28, 2014. Taking political power to gain equality becomes an imperative for American women.

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.”

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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.”

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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.

Leadership in Action: NEW LeadershipTM Alum Raises Consciousness about Women in Politics

The following blog is a guest post from Felise Ortiz, a senior at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, double majoring in Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies with a minor in Spanish. She is an alumna of the NEW Leadership NJ Class of 2011. Felise is the Founder and President of Douglass D.I.V.A.S., a female empowerment student organization at Rutgers University. She is also an Institute for Women’s Leadership Scholar as well as an Eagleton Institute of Politics Undergraduate Associate.

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Jennifer Osolinski (L) and Felise Ortiz (R)

The underrepresentation of women in politics in the United States is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately and with urgency. With the help of the Institute of Women’s Leadership, my partner Jennifer Osolinski and I were able to facilitate a conversation addressing this issue. Our social action project was not only an opportunity to hone our feminist leadership skills but it also served as testament to the fact that the personal is indeed political. As former Eagleton and CAWP interns, Jennifer and I wanted our event to make at least one young woman consider a first step in the direction of politics. We were inspired by programs such as NEW LeadershipTM and Ready to RunTM because they inform women about the current political climate and encourage them to become involved in public service.

While strategizing on how to reach a youthful audience, we were approached with the possibility of doing a film “Raising Ms. President” a new documentary about getting girls politically active. Once we watched the trailer, we agreed that it would be a great foundation for our project and our overall message. I learned a lesson in patience and professionalism from this portion of the experience. I also learned that is apart of the feminist model of leadership to use your network. Our networks ultimately resulted in three amazing panelists and the film arriving on time. We had an audience of about twenty-five people who were enthusiastic about the film and project as a whole. I had a list of prepared remarks and questions for the panelist. However, I learned the most from the audience’s engagement with the panelists. There were many though-provoking questions asked and answered. The key moment of the event for me occurred after most of the attendees departed and two panelists were left talking passionately about campaigns. One woman was a Caucasian Republican representative from a suburban town and the other was a Black Democrat from an urban city, and they were networking. I watched politics (how it should work) happen organically with two women who shared a love for public service.

This project has taught me three key lessons:

1. The message is worth the madness. We were able to spread our message that women’s political involvement is important and can be transformational when it is made a priority. Any of the difficultly that we may have faced along the way was well worth it.

2. Not only is the personal, political but also the political is often better executed when it is personal. The research and our panelists attested to the fact that there is a dire need for more women in office in order for issues that affect women to be adequately advocated for. Another example would be my personal connection to this project, made me invested enough to see it through to the end.

3. Social justice based women’s leadership has been and will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. During this process I have been inspired by the social action projects of my classmates and how we have rallied together to support one another. The bond we created through this experience has strengthened me and I am truly grateful to have had this opportunity.

 

Art Imitates Life…in Politics

Six of this year’s nine Best Picture Oscar nominees are based on true stories – from 12 Years a Slave’s adaptation of Solomon Northrup’s 1853 memoir to American Hustle’s admission that “some of oscars_leadthis actually happened” in the FBI’s Abscam operation. Whether nearer to or farther from the truth, these movies demonstrate the ways in which the art of film draws from the realities in life. In politics, one of those realities is the dearth of women in elected office. Despite the progress in recent decades, women still represent less than a quarter of elected officials at the state, statewide, and federal levels. Even fewer elected women make it to the big screen.

In a recent analysis of family films released between 2006 and 2011, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found no speaking character played a powerful American female political figure, compared to 45 U.S. male politicians. And among films with a more adult audience, very few films with prominent political women characters, especially from the U.S., come to mind.

Look for lists of movies with fictional political women leads and the most commonly cited films date back more than a decade, with Joan Allen’s portrayal of a vice presidential nominee in The Contender (2000) and Glenn Close as Vice President in Air Force One (1997). The most recent films based on real-life female politicians profile women leaders from outside of the United States (e.g. The Iron Lady (2011), The Lady (2011), The Queen (2006)).

Fictional and memorialized American male politicians are easier to find in film history. Last year’s Oscar season buzzed with portrayals of two male presidents in Lincoln (2012) and Hyde Park on Hudson (2012). The year before, The Ides of March (2011) received an Oscar nomination for its screenplay about a male presidential contender. And few female roles compare to those  of Kevin Kline as President Bill Mitchell in Dave (1993)or Michael Douglas as President Andrew Shepherd in The American President (1995).

So have films settled for the status quo by leaving political women out of the equation? Not entirely. While few, there are examples of films introducing audiences to fictional political women leaders. In 1931, just over a decade after women won the right to vote, Oscar-winner Marie Dressler played Hattie Burns, a middle-aged widow turned mayoral candidate in Politics (1931). In 1947, a year when only eight women served in the U.S. Congress, Loretta Young played Katie Holstrom, a farm girl turned Congresswoman, in The Farmer’s Daughter. Project Moonbase, a futuristic film released in 1953, is recognized as the first film with a woman president, though she is never seen on screen. A decade later, Polly Bergen played President Leslie McLoud in Kisses for My President (1964), a comedic take on the challenges that might face the first female president (and her male spouse) upon moving into the White House. That year, real U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) became the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for the presidency by either of the two major political parties. Life imitating art? Maybe.

At the Center for American Women and Politics, we know that Marian Wright Edelman’s reminder that “you can’t be what you can’t see” is especially true when it comes to women and elected office. In addition to increasing the number of elected women who can serve as role models in real life, bringing more elected women – whether fictional or not – to the big screen can help to alter the image of political leadership so that a President Leslie McCloud doesn’t seem so far from reality.

We’re looking for your help! Here is a working list of fictional films with elected women characters. Can you add to this list? Post a comment here or on our Facebook page with additions.

Politics (1931): Middle-aged widow Hattie Burns (Marie Dressler) becomes fed up when local small-town politicians ignore corruption and decides to run for mayor herself.

The Farmer’s Daughter (1947): Katie Holstrom (Loretta Young) plays a farm girl who ends up working as a maid for a congressman and his politically powerful mother. After voicing her opinion at a public meeting, she is backed by leaders of the opposition party for a coming election to fill the seat of a deceased congressman. After her opponent attempts to smear her, Katie is proposed to by the congressman for whom she worked and, then, wins the support of his powerful mother, assuring her election. In the final scene, Glenn carries Katie across the threshold of the United States House of Representatives.

Key to the City (1950): At a mayors convention in San Francisco, ex-longshoreman Steve Fisk meets Clarissa Standish (Loretta Young)  from New England. Fisk is mayor of “Puget City” and is proud of his rough and tumble background. Standish is mayor of “Winona, Maine”, and is equally proud of her education and dedication to the people who elected her. Thrown together, the two opposites attract and their escapades during the convention get each of them in hot water back home.

Project Moonbase (1953): A woman is president of the US in the script, but the character is never seen on screen.

Kisses for my President (1964): When the women of America join together on election day and elect a Leslie McCloud (Polly Bergen) as the US President, things get a little awkward. Especially for her husband Thad NcCloud. He, as First Husband, must take over the job as The First Lady, in the women’s groups and garden parties.

Whoops Apocalypse (1986): Loretta Swit is Barbara Adams, the first female president. She was only sworn in office when the previous president, an ex-circus clown (a parody of Ronald Reagan’s entertainment career), died after asking a journalist to hit him in the stomach with a crowbar as a test of physical strength (a take on the death of Harry Houdini).

Air Force One (1997): Glenn Close plays the Vice President of the United States.

The Contender (2000): Sexy secrets from a woman’s (Joan Allen) past come to light as she runs for Vice President.

The Woman Every Man Wants/Perfect Love (2001): Sally Champlin plays the role of female president in this futuristic sci-fi film.

Mayor Cupcake (2011): A hard-working cupcake maker (Lea Thompson) is inadvertently elected mayor of a small town burdened with debt. Uneducated, she relies on her street smarts to clean up the town.

Presidential Lists are Due for Disruption

Today, as we celebrate those individuals who have held our nation’s highest office, it is worth taking note the absence of women from the list of 44 male presidents who have served in U.S. history. While multiple trailblazing women have challenged the expectations of masculine leadership in the White House, too few have received the recognition they deserved or the votes they needed to be labeled as “viable” contenders.Presidents-Day-Graphic-2014-MS

The words “woman president” today often cue “Hillary Clinton” among peers, colleagues, family, and friends. Too few people think of Margaret Chase Smith’s historic bid in 1964, as the first woman to have her name placed in nomination at a major party convention; or Shirley Chisholm in 1972, who was the first woman and the first African American to have her name placed in nomination for the presidency at a Democratic National Convention, winning 151.95 delegate votes; or even Victoria Woodhull in 1872, who campaigned for the presidency before women could even vote nationwide. It’s true the 18 million cracks Hillary Clinton made in the proverbial “marble ceiling” of presidential politics may have made it less remarkable for a woman to be taken seriously as a presidential contender, but, as Dr. Ruth Mandel has written, the women who ran before her were instrumental in “[making] the idea [of a woman president] less outrageous to conceive.” 

Hillary Clinton is not only viewed as the most viable women who has run, but supporters and opponents alike view her as the most likely woman who will run in 2016. Consistent with all things Clinton, the attention paid to a possible Hillary Clinton candidacy in 2016 is already extreme. Thirty-three months before Election Day 2016, major news outlets like Time Magazine and the New York Times Magazine have made Clinton’s potential bid their cover stories, and few of Clinton’s public appearances go by without analysis over what they indicate about her campaign strategy. But as the assumptions of a Clinton candidacy grow stronger, the idea that she is the (cue: only) woman candidate in 2016 is not only unfair to the many qualified women who could be added to the Democratic and Republican short lists (see Kasie Hunt’s commentary on this here), but also places a great deal of pressure on Clinton.

While Democratic short lists for 2016 have included more women than in the past – floating Senators Warren, Gillibrand, and Klobuchar in addition to Secretary Clinton, men’s names outnumber women’s names, and few Republican short lists have included women amidst a very open, and arguably weak, Republican field. When women like Governor Susana Martinez are discussed, they are often considered as potential Vice Presidential nominees instead of among those likely to top the party ticket. These short lists are not only important in the horse race, but present cues to voters about who is qualified to run for president. And though women’s stables of elected officials remain smaller than men’s at all levels, there are just as many qualified women – Democrats and Republicans – as men to seek a home in the Oval Office.  So as we reflect on the absence of women on the list of U.S. presidents to date, let’s also question the dearth of women’s names floated as potential presidential contenders.

Women Going into the Family Business…of Politics

The lines of political succession for women in Congress began, in many cases, through marriage. Of the first ten women to serve in the U.S. Senate, five were appointed to fill vacancies left by their deceased husbands. In the U.S. House, 25 of the first 60 women to serve (from 1923 to 1963) were widows who filled their husband’s seats. However, in the past 50 years, only 18 women (4 Senate, 14 House) have entered Congress as a result of their husbands’ deaths. But political kinship is far from dead, and this year’s female candidates for the U.S. Senate might demonstrate that the dynastic politics we have traditionally seen among generations of political men may now provide political opportunities for women.

Of the 29 women who have put their names forward as U.S. Senate candidates in 2014, at least 5 are political daughters-turned-politicians. In Georgia, Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn is the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA). Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) is the daughter of Jerry Lundergan, a former Kentucky Democratic chairman and state representative, and Charlotte Lundergan, Kentucky’s current Democratic National Committeewoman. In West Virginia, Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito (R) follows in the political footsteps of her father, Arch Alfred Moore, Jr., who served three terms as West Virginia’s governor. Until recently, Liz Cheney (R) was also among the class of political daughters waging a Senate bid in 2014.politicaldaughters

These women join two incumbent women senators running for re-election with political family ties. Both of Senator Susan Collins’ (R-ME) parents – Patricia R. and Donald F. Collins, served as mayor of Caribou, Maine, and her father went on to serve in both houses of the Maine legislature. Senator Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) father, Maurice “Moon” Landrieu’s, was the popular Mayor of New Orleans from 1970-1978 before serving in President Carter’s administration and being appointed as a federal judge. Her brother, Mitch Landrieu, took on his father’s previous post as Mayor in 2010, after serving as Louisiana’s Lieutenant Governor. Thus, political daughters are not new to Congress.

Four more women senators have political fathers. In December 2002, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was the first daughter to be appointed to her father’s seat (by her father), which he had vacated after being elected governor of Alaska. Both Senator McCaskill’s (D-MO) and Senator Fischer’s (R-NE) fathers served in statewide office, and Senator Cantwell’s (D-WA) father was elected to both local and state legislative office. Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is probably the most well-known political daughter in the House of Representatives. Her father, Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., was the Mayor of Baltimore and a Democratic Congressman representing the state of Maryland.

As more women enter office, the likelihood of passing the mantle from mother to daughter also grows. Of the current women Senators, at least two have mothers who were elected officials; as mentioned, Senator Collins’ mother served as mayor, and Senator McCaskill’s mother was the first woman elected to the Columbia, MO city council.[1] In the House, at least five women followed in the political footsteps of their mothers, who served in statewide, state legislative, and local offices.[2] And there’s already some sign that there will be more. At a December 2012 forum at Saint Anselm College, Senator Kelly Ayotte shared this exchange with her 8-year old daughter Kate:

“She came home one day and said, ‘Mom, I don’t want you to run for president.’ I said, ‘Kate, that’s not going to happen. Why are you asking me this?’ She said, ‘You know what, Mom? Because I want to be the first woman president.’”

With the dearth of women at KellyAyotteSwearingInall levels of political office, we can’t count on political moms or dads to be the sole motivators  for women to run. Nor would we want to discourage the innumerable qualified women from running because they were not born into political access or privilege. However, as research shows, we need to do better in filling the pipeline of potential women candidates, and that means looking at all options and pathways to office, including being engaged with and inspired by parents who participate in politics – whether as elected officials, advocates, or engaged citizens. Research shows that familial socialization vís a vís politics can increase women’s likelihood of considering running for office later in life, so parental political engagement in any capacity can foster an environment in which more daughters are willing to run.

The history of political kinship in American politics is long, and the Kennedys are likely the clearest example of an American political dynasty. In fact, a Kennedy has served in the U.S. Congress in all but two of the last 67 years.  Of all of the Kennedys who have served in elected office since 1892, however, only one has been a woman. In 1995, Robert Kennedy’s daughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, became lieutenant governor of Maryland and the first Kennedy woman to hold an elected office.[3]  Townsend is not the first, but is now among a growing class of women who have disrupted the patrilineal threads of political kinship. And, who knows, we may soon be talking about Chelsea, Malia, Sasha, or Kate among the newest generation of political daughters!



[1] Senator Claire McCaskill’s mother went on to run for the U.S. House of Representatives.

[2] Representative Terri Sewell’s (D-AL) mother was on the city council. Representative Rosa DeLauro’s (D-CT) mother was the longest-serving member of the New Haven Board of Alderman. Representative Kathy Castor’s (D-FL) mother was elected statewide as Florida’s Education Commissioner. Representative Ann McLane Kuster’s (D-NH) mother served in the New Hampshire State Senate. Representative Yvette Clarke’s (D-NY) mother served on the New York City Council and the two were the first mother to daughter succession in the Council’s history.

[3] Caroline Kennedy was appointed as Ambassador to Japan in November 2013.