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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.

Would women have shut down the shutdown?

A recent MSNBC article poses the question that has seeped into multiple debates and discussions over the current government shutdown: would we be here today if more women were in Congress? Columnists Khimm and Taylor highlight the efforts by Republican and Democratic women senators to bring members together and toward a solution to both re-open the government and address the debt ceiling; from potluck dinners and pizza parties to the Collins proposal, they note women’s willingness and ability to use personal relationships for political problem-solving. Beyond the anecdotal evidence from the past few weeks, why else might we expect that more women in office might help to avert or assuage political gridlock? 1. Women enter office motivated to get things done. In CAWP’s latest survey of state legislators, women reported that their top motivation to run for office was a concern about one or two public policy issues. The top motivation for male legislators, however, was a longstanding desire to be involved in politics. As a result, women come into office with a greater desire for policy achievements than political wins. 2. Women lead differently than men. Research has shown that women often bring more inclusive, democratic, and collaborative styles of leadership to both public and private sectors.[1] In politics and government, multiple studies show that women look to facilitate – rather than control – discussion,  and they approach policymaking in a less confrontational way than their male counterparts.[2] One study of mayors takes a particular look at the budgeting process. Weikart et al. (2006) found female mayors were far more willing than male mayors to change the budget process, be more inclusive, and seek broader participation in budget debates. Women mayors were also more willing to admit to fiscal problems and discuss solutions to fix them. 3. Women legislators are more responsive to their constituents. Multiple studies show that women legislators spend more time engaging and responding to constituents, providing greater access by citizens to the legislative process.[3] In a setting where 91 percent of the electorate sees the shutdown as a serious problem, this attention to constituent demands is particularly important to shaping members’ willingness to compromise and seek solutions. 4. Women have built strong bipartisan relationships amidst hyper-partisanship. When the number of women in the U.S. Senate reached 20 in January 2013, Diane Sawyer sat with the current class of women senators and discussed how their ability to work across party lines might be related to their efforts to build personal relationships. Known for their regularly-scheduled dinners together, the women in the Senate have translated personal friendships into professional collaboration on issues like sexual assault in the military, domestic energy, and – most recently – the federal budget. This cross-aisle collaboration is not new to women in Congress. For example, it was a bipartisan group of women members who fought the National Institutes of Health to include women in clinical research trials in the early 1990s. While women – like men – differ on many issues, their experience working together on some issues provides a foundation upon which they can productively dialogue on the issues most important today. As the government shutdown appears to be nearing its end, it has raised a number of questions about how we might avert a repeat performance. Getting more women elected might just be a start.
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[3] Beck (2001); Carey, Neimi, and Powell (1998); Epstein, Neimi, and Powell (2005); CAWP (2001) also finds that men and women state legislators believe that women legislators provide increased access to the legislature for traditionally disadvantaged groups in American society, such as racial and ethnic minorities and the economically disadvantaged.

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Welcome to footnotes, CAWP’s latest effort to bring you new, interesting, and timely information about women and politics. Since 1971, the Center for American Women and Politics has been the leading source of scholarly research and current data about American women’s political participation. We’ve learned a lot in the last 40 years and look forward to asking and answering more questions essential to increasing women’s political power in the decades to come. footnotes will give us the space and opportunity to do just that, and we’ll do it with your help. What will we write about? As the keepers of current data on women candidates, women voters, and women officeholders, CAWP has an abundance of information that can be easily missed on our website or, even more, in the footnotes of our research reports and fact sheets. This site will highlight interesting pieces and analyses of our existing data, as well as new data collected to answer questions that arise out of recent headlines, the political climate, or the latest scholarship. In addition to original data and analyses, footnotes will feature responses by CAWP scholars and staff to news and events related to women and politics. Finally, we hope that this blog will provide a forum to highlight academic research on gender and politics for scholars, practitioners, and advocates alike. How can you help? This blog will give us the opportunity to share more information with you, so we hope you will subscribe to our RSS feed and/or be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook. But footnotes is not just a forum for CAWP staff and scholars. We’d like to hear your comments, your ideas, and your questions about women’s political participation. Let’s start a dialogue here that helps to identify and address the reasons for women’s political underrepresentation and promotes the advancement of women’s influence and leadership in public life.    

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