March, Women’s History Month, represents a time to both reflect and look toward the future. One of the best barometers of progress is the representation of women in political leadership roles, and while Santa Barbra County and its cities have appointed women to numerous positions, we need to ensure that there continues to be a diverse range of women coming up behind them.
Santa Barbara needs to fill the pipeline with interested, capable women who want to participate in shaping its future. However, becoming an elected official is not the only way for women to make an important impact on public life. Membership on a local advisory board or commission provides an opportunity for those who are interested in becoming involved in politics at the local level without running for elected office.
It’s easy to take Santa Barbara’s pristine landscape and rich cultural life for granted, but we cannot ignore the enormous challenges still facing our city and county leaders. Among them are issues such as taxation, fiscal responsibility for state-mandated services, urbanization and development, decaying infrastructures, homelessness, the need for affordable and accessible child care, and the recent demand for workforce realignment services for ex-offenders. These issues are being confronted head-on by local advisory committees and commissions comprised of small groups of engaged community members. As members of these commissions, women can add their energetic leadership and unique perspectives and contribute to dynamic discussions aimed at finding creative and collaborative solutions to pressing problems.
The options for getting involved are myriad. Here are a few of the issues currently being addressed by local boards and committees:
• Mental health programs and services. You might consider serving on the Mental Health Commission. Members work as advisors to the director of the Department of Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Services, as options are reviewed and resources are allocated. Each member is appointed by their District Supervisor.
• High quality early care and education. According to the Santa Barbara First Five Children and Family’s Commission, these are essential for a child’s development, for a parent’s ability to work, and for the health and economic well-being of our community. Yet, in Santa Barbara County, many parents struggle to find child-care options they need and can afford. There is currently just one licensed child-care space for every three children of working families. Want to lobby, advocate, and get involved in discussing access to affordable and quality childcare? Consider applying to the First Five Commission’s Advisory Board.
• Human trafficking. Santa Barbarans have been surprised if not shocked to learn that sex trafficking is happening here. To address this problem, District Attorney Joyce Dudley has appointed a Task Force made up of members from a slew of agencies — including Homeland Security, Rape Crisis Center, Child Welfare Services, and various faith-based communities — but the Santa Barbara County Commission for Women has been investigating it as well and will make its own informed recommendations.
Laura Burton Capps, Chair of the Women’s Commission, mentioned that it’s been enlightening to discuss and address issues with women from North County. An example of this commission’s effective activity is that Veterans Stand Down now considers the needs of women vets or spouses of veterans. The Santa Barbara County Commission for Women will soon publish a document describing disparities in appointments to commissions, inviting more women to apply.
Women need to participate more fully in the debates and discussions that will shape the future. Being on a commission or an advisory board to a commission will enlighten you about how government works, which can be intimidating to many. If you have any reticence, start by attending a commission meeting of your choice, and if you have a question or concern, contribute during the public comment. As Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” Why not start your own involvement in public life, or take your first step toward a potential political career, by seeking an appointment to a local advisory board or a local commission?
If you have an interest in serving on one, call the Board of Supervisors at (805) 568-2192 or the Santa Barbara City Clerk at (805) 564-5309. Additionally, the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee (SBWPC) sends out regular updates on available openings.
And to learn more about women in politics, attend the Annual Presidents’ Circle Lunch at the Montecito Country Club on Friday, March 13, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. You’ll hear Santa Barbara County Supervisor Doreen Farr, Santa Barbara School Board President Monique Limon, and Santa Barbara City Councilmember Cathy Murillo share their experiences and thoughts about “Women in Elected Office: Getting There & Being There” in a panel program moderated by former county supervisor Susan Rose. More information is available at sbwpc.org.
Lois Phillips, PhD is an organizational consultant, contributor to Leading Women (2015), founding member of the SBWPC, and the Presidents Circle.