Exploring State Political Systems
The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, has issued a new report on women’s political power within diverse state political ecosystems. In Rethinking Women’s Political Power, CAWP examines specific political systems in Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania to illustrate that increasing women’s political power is a multi-site, multiracial, and bipartisan endeavor. The report relies on interviews with nearly 200 political actors – elected officials, campaign professionals, government staff, activists, organizers, donors, and more – to gain a deeper, more thorough understanding of the factors that shape women’s access to political power both within and across states. It specifically interrogates differences in experiences, as well as obstacles and opportunities for women’s expanded political power, by race/ethnicity, party, and position. By observing states with widely disparate political ecosystems, we are able to create lessons and prescriptions that are broadly applicable to every American state.
On Wednesday, December 6th at 4pm ET, CAWP will host a virtual event touching on major themes from Rethinking Women’s Political Power featuring Oklahoma Commissioner of Labor Leslie Osborn, Nevada Assemblymember Selena Torres, and U.S. Representative Lauren Underwood (IL-14) in a conversation moderated by report author and CAWP Director of Research Kelly Dittmar.
The report highlights the voices of the political actors we interviewed and explores five key intersecting themes:
Rethinking Political Power
“Political influence is not always elected. It’s not always front and center.” –State Representative La’Tasha Mayes (D-PA)
Political office is not the only source of political power. Moreover, each state presents unique political structures, forms of power and influence, and degrees of authority shared between various levels of government and individual political actors. Growing women’s political power requires more than just numerical parity, it necessitates enhanced influence in every source of power within a given ecosystem.
Motivating Action to Increase Women’s Political Power
“We’re trying to be as diverse as we can be. We want as many voters as we can. And, you know, that’s just the name of the game.” – Ken Warner, Chair of the Oklahoma County Republican Party
There are stark differences between the Democratic and Republican parties in how they view women’s political representation and whether underrepresentation requires targeted intervention. In addition, political powerbrokers valuing women candidates as a strategic resource in specific electoral circumstances is a narrow scope with which to promote women’s political participation. Short-term gains for women’s representation when it suits party goals may be fleeting if those goals and strategies no longer align with the mission to increase women’s political power.
Building Support Infrastructures that Serve All Women in Politics
“It’s still white women teaching women of color how to be leaders in our community.” – Cecia Alvarado, former Nevada State Director of Mi Familia Vota
Organizations devoted to supporting women in politics have significant opportunity to expand the scope of their work. Though they face considerable resource challenges, these organizations have the potential to support a more diverse array of women, including increased attention to ethnic and racial diversity, but also building and expanding organizations that support Republican women, who are underserved compared to Democrats. Greater systems of support are also necessary for women in politics beyond candidates like officeholders, staffers, campaign consultants, and lobbyists.
Identifying Barriers to Increase Women’s Political Power
“I’m a regular middle-class person. I didn’t have the luxury of mortgaging my future.” – U.S. Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL)
There are innumerable barriers to building women’s political power. Many of these barriers are shared broadly among state ecosystems; for example, financial hardships in running for office and the economic tradeoffs of public service vs. private sector employment are considerable hurdles for women, particularly for those from historically-marginalized racial and ethnic communities. Some barriers to power, however, have implications unique to state political systems, like the role of political machines and party powerbrokers in candidate emergence.
Leveraging Opportunities for Building Women’s Political Power
“Hopefully I can be the first but of many that are going to come after me.” – State Representative Soo Hong (R-GA)
Barriers abound, but this is an era of unrivaled potential to remake the U.S. political system. Recent increases in numerical representation of women politicians from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds means more women are in positions to support newcomers, and their increasing visibility can serve as inspiration for future generations. There are also opportunities to expand women’s influence in party/gatekeeping structures, take advantage of changing demographics among the electorate, and convert political activism into political power.
Each chapter includes a state-specific story that illustrates the theme and prescriptions for progress to expand women’s political power with specific attention to state, partisan, and racial and ethnic differences.
This research is made possible thanks to the generosity and commitment of Pivotal Ventures, a Melinda French Gates company. Read the full report, and hear directly from the people operating in these political ecosystems, at the Rethinking Women’s Political Power site.
Daniel De Simone: email@example.com; 760.703.0948