“We need more good women to run,” feminist icon Gloria Steinem tells The Good Wife’s Alicia Florrick (Julianna Marguiles) on last Sunday’s episode. Until that point, Alicia had all but closed the door on running for State’s Attorney of Illinois, despite other attempts to persuade her by political insiders and prominent women like Valerie Jarrett. It was Steinem, however, whose endorsement may have made the difference in Alicia’s decision to run (or not), and only time (and another episode) will tell if she takes on the challenge. Watching a fictional female character grapple with the complexities involved in making the decision to run for office on prime time television is a new and important point of cultural progress. In this show, Alicia is a potential candidate not due to the death of a man (see Commander in Chief, Madame Secretary), but because she’s deemed best qualified and most favored to do the job (Yes, her husband is the governor - a worthy topic for another blog post). Moreover, her aversion to putting her name forward is not simply due to familial responsibilities, though she references the time crunch she is under (to which Steinem responds: “Show me a woman who isn’t overwhelmed”). She considers the impact of her potential bid on her business, her career, her personal principles (repeatedly saying “I’m not a politician”), and her family. That calculus is much more in line with research on women’s paths to political office, especially the “relationally-embedded decision-making”that CAWP scholars Susan Carroll and Kira Sanbonmatsu have outlined in their book More Women Can Run (2013). After analyzing survey data from state legislators throughout the U.S., they explain, “Women’s decision making about officeholding is more likely to be influenced by the beliefs and reactions, both real and perceived, of other people and to involve considerations of how candidacy and officeholding would affect the lives of others with whom the potential candidate has close relationships” (45). Which brings us back to Steinem. Carroll and Sanbonmatsu also find that encouragement matters to women, and it matters more in their calculus to run than it does in men’s decision-making. Moreover, the most influential sources of recruitment for women to run are political ones like party leaders, elected or appointed officials, or potentially prominent political activists. In discussions about women’s political recruitment, someone inevitably throws out a number of times that a woman needs to be asked to run before she actually does it; seven, three, five, we’ve heard them all. However, the research doesn’t point to any magic number of asks needed to spark a woman’s political ambition. Instead, the research shows that who asks, what case they can make, and how much support they provide can go far in moving a woman like Alicia Florrick from the “sidelines” to the ballot.
- 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.
New and Old GroupsTraditional 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 OrganizationThe 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 GroupsSome 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.
Benefiting All ConstituentsHaving 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.
“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 all 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. 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!