WEATHER »

Parity, Not Party

New National Campaign for Gender Balance in Politics Comes to S.B.


Thursday, March 22, 2012
Article Tools
Print friendly
E-mail story
Tip Us Off
iPod friendly
Comments
Share Article

The U.S. Congress, purportedly the pinnacle of the world’s strongest representative democracy, ranks 71st among 157 nations in the inclusion of women inside its hallowed halls.

For starters, we trail Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Try saying that fast three times in a row.

America’s sorry placement on a scale of sexism compiled by the international Inter-Parliamentary Union was Topic A at last week’s annual big-bash luncheon of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, where keynoter and veteran California strategist Mary Hughes sought support for 2012 Project, a new, nonpartisan national campaign to elect more female members of Congress and state legislatures.

“It’s not okay that it’s like this,” Hughes said, “and it’s on us to change it.”

WOMEN’S ALL-STAR LINEUP: At the Montecito Country Club lunch (Cobb salad with choice of chicken or tofu, iced tea, and insulin-shock brownies), Hughes addressed an audience of 140 women (including S.B. elected officials Marty Blum, Lois Capps, Annette Cordero, Doreen Farr, Cathy Murillo, Kate Parker, Helene Schneider, and Janet Wolf, along with Goleta’s Margaret Connell, Susan Epstein, Pam Kinsley, and Paula Perotte) and four men (Salud Carbajal, Grant House, me, and a guy in a gray suit I didn’t recognize and didn’t get to talk to).

Mary Hughes
Click to enlarge photo

Mary Hughes

Bottom line: While women are 50 percent of the population and 55 percent of the electorate, efforts to erase historic gender imbalance in politics lag behind those in academia, business, law, medicine, and other professions. Two decades after 1992’s ballyhooed “Year of the Woman” election, when female membership of Congress, um, soared to double digits at 11 percent, women now hold just 17 percent of House and Senate seats, a number that actually declined in the 2010 midterms.

As a practical matter, Hughes said, there are major consequences behind the numbers that help shape the dysfunctional status quo in Washington and state capitals. Citing research by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, where the 2012 Project is based, she said that elected women are less partisan, more transparent, and more focused on real-life issues like child care, education, family health, and preschool than men.

Research shows that women who run for office win as often as men; the big difference, Hughes said, is that they enter politics far less frequently than men because of factors ranging from their dominant role as “family caretakers for children, and increasingly for parents,” to concerns for privacy in “a YouTube world” and the challenge of defeating entrenched male incumbents.

Intriguingly, however, the biggest reason many women who have forged successful careers in other fields say they don’t run is that “nobody asked me,” Hughes said, in sharp contrast to male politicians, who overwhelmingly self-select in seeking public office.

“Life is like high school,” she added. “But you know, politics is not a prom.”

PERILS OF MICHELE: Besides its public education operation, the 2012 Project recruits “accomplished women in the private and public sectors who have not previously considered running for office,” according to its mission statement, and also serves as a clearinghouse to connect candidates to more than 100 other organizations nationwide that offer fundraising, strategy, and candidate training services.

Here and throughout much of California, of course, urging the election of women is preaching to the choir: “In Santa Barbara, women in office are the norm, not the exception,” as former supervisor Susan Rose put it in her introduction of Hughes.

But this year presents an exceptional opportunity to increase the number of women in office, Hughes said, because the once-a-decade process of redistricting, which creates more open congressional and legislative seats, coincides with a presidential race, which boosts turnout, a confluence that only occurs every 20 years.

In Santa Barbara, by far the most controversial element of her pitch is its insistence on absolutely neutral nonpartisanship, a requirement that means the project supports, for example, pro-life Tea Party Republican candidates as aggressively as pro-choice Democrats.

In an interview after her talk, Hughes defended the stance as “a very long-term view,” reasoning that women of all partisan stripes can find common purpose on issues like schools.

But some women’s committee members called it a deal breaker: “Support Michele Bachmann? I don’t think so,” said one. “Gender is not always more important than party.”

The 2012 Project is online at cawp.rutgers.edu/site/pages/2012Project.php.

Related Links

Comments

Independent Discussion Guidelines

Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

There, I just did it.

fivedolphins (anonymous profile)
March 22, 2012 at 1:57 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"For starters, we trail Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan."

Where would women have more freedom, the U.S., or the countries listed above? Benezir Bhutto was president of Pakistan; are women freer there? It's a Red Herring argument.

"As a practical matter, Hughes said, there are major consequences behind the numbers that help shape the dysfunctional status quo in Washington and state capitals. Citing research by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, where the 2012 Project is based, she said that elected women are less partisan, more transparent, and more focused on real-life issues like child care, education, family health, and preschool than men."

OK then, let's get rid of Jerry Brown and Barack Obama and replace them with Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman.

Oh wait, could it be a case of playing the gender card for political gain?

On the other hand could it be that women are less likely to sell their souls by making promises you know, and I know, and they know they can't possibly keep?

If Hughes is interested--and reading, here's a suggestion: Quit telling men that they are inferior and maybe you'll achieve gender harmony. While we're at it, why in a town with so many people of Mexican ancestry are there no Spanish surnames on The Independent's editorial staff and and only one on the business staff?

In conclusion: If someone has the guts to address what's really going on in our society, and doesn't play genders or races against each other, as well as respects our basic freedoms, I'll vote for them regardless of gender/race.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
March 22, 2012 at 2:14 a.m. (Suggest removal)

@ billclausen, it'll never happen, it ain't the American way!

dou4now (anonymous profile)
March 22, 2012 at 6:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Great piece on the 2012 project, but just wanted to clarify one element.

The 2012 project seeks to encourage more women from diverse corners of professional life to run for office. That said, it does not 'support' individual candidates of either stripe.

As to the concern about 'agenda,' Hughes did clarify that women who are drawn to the 2012 project tend to be women who recognize the lack of female representation in electoral office as a problem that needs to be corrected. Based on what she said, that perception applies more to liberal, feminist and progressive women than to very conservative women who tend to run for different reasons.

Interestingly, in a small group discussion prior to the event, it was identified that a significant hindrance to getting more women to run was the difficulty they face from both political parties who tend to support candidates who come out of the insider structure.

Susan Jordan

OurCoast (anonymous profile)
March 23, 2012 at 2:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If you're still voting by gender or skin color then you need to evolve.
Per Ms. Jordan's statement above "difficulty they face from both political parties who tend to support candidates who come out of the insider structure." that holds true for men as well.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 1, 2012 at 3:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

To Ken,

You are absolutely correct that the problems associated with the 'insider structure' hold for men as well as women.

The under-representation of women in elected office, however, requires action. Still, I would not ever vote for a women JUST because she is a woman.

Susan

OurCoast (anonymous profile)
April 1, 2012 at 5:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Oh for a perfect world where it could be just assumed everyone approached voting the same way without a unique positive quality being used as a divisive wedge.
I guess it's better than it was. I sometimes exist in a happy Progressive bubble in which I assume everyone approaches people with the same attitude as I do then I'm shocked to learn that they don't. I.e. Trayvon Martin (RIP)

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 1, 2012 at 6:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Regina Carter

"Southern Comfort" marks a transition from the exploration of her ... Read More