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Bettina Duval Headshot

Undermining the Pipeline: Caroline Kennedy's Lack of Experience

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There are 16 women serving in our United States Senate. With the election of Jeanne Shaheen there will be 17 women. When Hillary Clinton becomes the Secretary of State, we'll be back to 16 women. If Caroline Kennedy succeeds her in New York, we'll be at 17 women; however, this is bittersweet: what about the other women in the New York pipeline, who are both experienced and qualified not just in governance, but in the process of listening to voters and earning the public trust? Indeed, an interest in holding public office involves not just governance, but the concern and care that comes with listening to and learning about your constituency. Caroline Kennedy may well make a great Senator, but it would be reassuring if there was more evidence that she sees the value in this, even though she'd be skipping that process this time around.

As the founder of the CALIFORNIA LIST, an organization dedicated to electing Democratic women in California, I've spent the last seven years spreading the message of the importance of building a solid pipeline that produces experienced, qualified female leaders. That's what I hear over and over again: that you cannot elect women just because they are women --they must also be qualified and experienced. To that end, in California we are working to create the essential pipeline to make sure that there are women in office and that the number will increase. That pipeline starts with experience in listening to voters in City Council and State Assembly races, and provides candidates with the experience that they need not just to govern effectively but campaign effectively. We believe that pipeline candidates not only have legislative experience, but are potential leaders who have built a career that extends from local electoral roles to state seats and beyond. The pipeline provides candidates with a vital balance of political familiarity as well as the legislative edification necessary to succeed on the national level.

In my opinion, the three top choices for the Senate seat are women from the New York pipeline -- Congresswomen Nita Lowey, Kirsten Gillibrand and Carolyn Maloney are all experienced and seasoned leaders. Each of them have represented New York, understand the challenges of getting elected and how to raise money. They also understand firsthand how the legislative process works and the challenges that are facing New York. They have attended many rubber chicken dinners -- they have paid their dues in the political process. If I lived in New York, I would have them on my "list" of Senate candidates.

In California, we have a great example of the pipeline at work in Senator Barbara Boxer. Senator Boxer served as a Marin County Supervisor, then as a Congresswoman -- then she ran for Senate. By the time she entered the Senate, she had local and state experience. When she entered the Senate, she had built a coalition of support throughout the state. She had also experienced tough elections. As a result, Senator Boxer is a tenacious fighter for our state.

I wish that there were more women who were interested in running for political office. When Caroline Kenedy announced her decision, I could not help but think, "you go, girl." However, upon more reflection, I also think that there are so many other women, and even a few men, who have earned the position and are more qualified. Maybe she should run for the New York State Senate. At least she would gain some experience and give New Yorkers a chance to get to know what her vision of public service looks like. If Caroline Kennedy shows a willingness to be a part of the pipeline, there's no telling where it could lead her.