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Democratic National Convention: Where Are the Women?

08/16/2012 03:21 pm ET | Updated Oct 16, 2012

The conversation swirling about what Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren's speech at the Democratic National Convention means for her campaign, for the president and for the party is missing an important question: Where are the other women?

While it's exciting that Warren was tapped to speak just before President Bill Clinton, a spot that will undoubtedly garner lots of viewers, I can't help but notice the convention's missed opportunity to showcase some of the party's other up-and-coming women with a prime speaking slot.

This year, a record 295 women filed nomination papers to run for Congress, according to the 2012 Project. We could also see a banner year for Democratic women in the U.S. Senate. In addition, there is a contested woman versus woman Democratic primary for the corner office in New Hampshire, a bellwether state for the presidential election. The convention is not only a place to nominate the candidates who will represent the party in the fall but is also an opportunity to showcase the talent pool. It is a catapult into the national spotlight with the power to take candidates from unknown to notorious and elevate candidates without name recognition to viability. So where are the women?

The Republican National Convention recently announced that some of its bold facers, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, will hold primetime speaking spots in Tampa. Democrats need to take a page from the GOP playbook on this one.

Republicans are parading their party's women, taking full advantage of these women's power with delegates and voters. Meanwhile, Democrats have succeeded at prioritizing women in their policies, such as women's health and workplace equality. At the convention, they should also prioritize the rising women in their party.

Standing at a convention podium is steeped in historic significance, particularly for women. Look to the late, great former Texas Governor Ann Richards for proof. In her rousing 1988 Democratic National Convention speech, then-State Treasurer Richards showcased her sharp wit and articulated what would become a tagline for women's political equality: "If you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels."

Women's voices in government elevate the collective voice of women in the electorate. Women's voices at the convention can do the same. Warren's voice should be joined by others.

Herewith, a short list of women poised for their shining-star moments and who, given the chance, can perform.

North Carolina State Treasurer Janet Cowell
The first woman elected to the post of state treasurer in North Carolina, Janet Cowell is an ideal candidate to welcome delegates to the Tarheel State. Her leadership maintained North Carolina's AAA bond rating, and she was this year selected as one of 10 new members of NewDEAL, a national network to highlight innovative ideas from progressive state and local elected leaders.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris
California Attorney General Kamala Harris is a force to be reckoned with. Riffing on an American Prospect article about the foreclosure crisis and its aftermath, The Nation called Harris "the woman the banks fear most," for her role fighting for Californians against big banks in national mortgage settlement negotiations. Her priorities are spot on -- she successfully fought for a Homeowners Bill of Rights and stood strong against enforcing a ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage -- and she is an absolutely engaging and dynamic speaker, to boot.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who replaced Hillary Clinton in 2009, is up for election to her first full term this year. A young mother, she is not only working to keep her own place in the Senate, she is empowering other women to earn theirs. Gillibrand's Off the Sidelines, a campaign to get women engaged in politics and leadership, is her call to action. She's putting her money where her mouth is, too: her Off the Sidelines PAC is raising funds to help women candidates' races.

North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue
When North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue, the state's first woman elected to the corner office, takes the podium, it should be in a speaking slot that is indicative of her place as not only the state's leader, but as an unwavering advocate for a key Democratic policy priority: women's health. Perdue, who is not seeking re-election, vetoed North Carolina's "Woman's Right to Know Act," a bill requiring an ultrasound and a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion, knowing the Republican-led legislature would override her veto. She may not be up-and-coming, but she is a true leader, and the Democratic National Convention is a stage on which that should be recognized.

To reach equal representation in government, we can start with equal representation on the national party stage. Voices like these are essential to a convention that is truly representative of the party's makeup and its full spectrum of talent. These are leaders with the chops to shine at the Democratic National Convention and beyond. And they can do it in high heels.

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