By Laurie Kretchmar
2012 is a pivotal election year for a number of reasons, not least of which is the opportunity for a record number of women to be elected to state legislatures and Congress; the 2012 Project on the importance of more female voices in government
Not one state – not California, not New York – has women serving in half the seats in its state legislature. California’s is 28 percent, while New York’s is only 21 percent. South Carolina trails the nation at 9 percent.
Women are best represented in Colorado, where they hold 41 percent of seats. Does the presence of women make a difference? Research says it does. Women tend to bring different agendas, content and processes. As The White House Project memorably says: “Add women; change everything.”
I asked Karen Middleton, president of Emerge America, a Democratic training organization, about serving as a state legislator in Colorado.
“I saw strong bipartisan support for some key issues affecting women and children,” Middleton said. “Laws around veterans’ families, domestic violence, cancer screening — we did great work in these areas. Women on both sides of the aisle led the way on important legislation, such as re-purposing coal plants with natural gas turbines–a new law that helped the environment and kept energy-related jobs in the state.”
Patricia Lindner, a Republican who served in the Illinois legislature, said, “Women are more willing to cut the partisan bickering and work with all sides to accomplish goals.”
To inspire more women to consider politics, the nonpartisan 2012 Project, where I work as media director, is working with dozens of allies including The White House Project, Emerge America and Rachel’s Network. The goal is to educate people about the low numbers of women in office today and ask accomplished women to consider running for state legislatures and Congress.
As USA Today reports, this year is a potentially record year for electing women – if women run. There are open seats in state legislatures and Congress due to redistricting in every state, 13 states with term limits and an expected presidential election year turnout.
Women and newcomers do best running for open seats. Of the 24 new women elected to Congress in 1992, known as the “Year of the Woman,” 22 won open seats. There is vast room for improvement. In 20 states today, zero women serve in congressional delegations.
What if this isn’t your year? You love the idea of electing more women, but the moment isn’t right for you. What can you do?
- Help The 2012 Project to get the word out about the opportunities that remain.
- Reach out to women in your community who may not have considered running. Remember, women often wait to be asked to run; issue that invitation yourself as a citizen who’d like to see better government. Consider women from backgrounds and professions that haven’t been well represented in government, and look for women of color, who can also bring distinctive perspectives.
- Refer any women you think would make great candidates to The 2012 Project at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will provide women interested in exploring a candidacy with a roadmap to launch a successful campaign.
- Support women candidates. Whatever your own political leanings, find a woman candidate you admire and boost her candidacy, whether as a donor or volunteer. Check out this regularly updated list of women running for Congress and statewide executive offices (with links to candidate websites in many cases), or find out who’s running for the legislature or local offices in your state.
- When it comes time to cast your ballot, vote for the women candidates of your choice.