“The Sunday Political Brunch” - April 6, 2014
(Providence, Rhode Island) – A lot has been made about the prospect of electing the first female U.S. President in 2016. Right now, Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner for the Democratic nominatio; but that certainly could change (as it did for her in 2008). Women in both parties are being talked about as being number one or two on their party’s ticket. I recently attended a seminar called “Elect Her,” which is designed to inspire women to run at all levels of government. So, let’s “brunch” on that concept this weekend:
“A Woman’s Place Is in the House…and Senate” – There are more women serving in Congress today than ever before. According to Tasha Cole of “Elect Her,” women make up 18.5 percent of the Congress, so parity is still a long way off. There are 79 women in the House and 20 in the Senate. California, Washington, Kansas, New Hampshire and Maine have all been represented by two women in the Senate at the same time. Only four states – Delaware, Vermont, Mississippi and Iowa – have never sent a woman to Congress. By party, 80 percent of women in the Senate are Democrats; 20 percent, Republicans. Among women in the House, 75 percent are Democrats and 25 percent are Republicans.
“Take State” – While some women may not be pleased with holding 18.5 percent of seats in Congress, they are doing much better in state legislatures. Women hold 24.2 percent of all seats in U.S. statehouses. And 24 states have 25 percent or higher female membership in their legislatures. Arizona, Colorado and Vermont have 35 percent or higher women membership. Of the total female membership in all state legislatures, 63 percent are Democrats and 35 percent are Republicans.
“All Politics is Local” – According to the National League of Cities, women now make up 28 percent of local council memberships around the nation, and in the nation’s largest cities women make up approximately 35 percent of council memberships. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner – the city’s first female chief executive – credited networking. Miner was actively involved in getting Hillary Clinton elected to the U.S. Senate from New York. Miner said the Clinton network of supporters, in turn, helped Miner get elected Mayor. Miner says it’s crucial that one campaign helps the other, because lower-tier office candidates are intimidated by dealing with fundraising, campaigning and media relations. “I will make my team, your team, and teach you how to do it,” Miner said of sharing resources with other female candidates.
“Staying on Message” – One of the more fascinating female office holders I met, was Jeanne Kessner, President Pro-Tempore of the Syracuse Common Council. Kessner spent decades as a TV investigative reporter, before running for public office. Kessner said that the first time you run for office your message has to be about defining who you are; but the second election and all those thereafter are about defending your record. In terms of problem-solving skills, Kessner said, “You don’t have to have a solution [for every problem], but you have to care.” Kessner cautioned potential candidates about promising to fix problems that are out of their control. “It has to be accomplishable,” Kessner said.
“Bipartisan Phenomenon” – Women have risen to power and influence in both political parties. For example, we have had 34 female governors in our nation’s history – 19 Democrats and 15 Republicans. Right now there are five women governors; 4 Republican and one Democrat. As noted earlier, Democratic women are more prevalent in Congress; but Republicans have much closer margins in state and local government. This gives female lawmakers considerable leverage and influence within both parties.
“Why All This Matters” – There’s an old saying that “He who has the gold, makes the rules.” That’s not necessarily true. While men still are the predominant wage earners in this country, women actually make, or strongly influence, 73 percent of consumer purchases. Despite that buying power, women make up only 4 percent of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, and occupy only 16 percent of seats on those corporations’ boards of directors. So while women have been cut out of the corporate power structure, they have had far more success in the political realm where many rules and laws are made. Women’s participation at all levels of government continues trending upward.
“Elect Her” – While much has been made of electing the first woman President, in truth political movements usually start from the bottom up, instead of from the top down. Many city councils, county commissions or state legislatures are now majority female, or close to it. Women have worked their way up the political food chain, and many who are now in Congress served at the local and state level first. So, “Elect Her” is a pioneering program, being offered at 50 universities this year, including Syracuse, where I participated. Many women get their first taste of political office in college student governments. "Elect Her" is sponsored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and Running Start. For more information, go to: http://www.aauw.org/what-we-do/campus-programs/elect-her-campus-women-wi...
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Photo courtesy: www.ElectWomen.com