Allyson Schwartz's defeat in Tuesday's Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial primary is a danger-zone-ahead sign for women politicians who aspire to executive office.
The obstacles on this road ahead were signaled in a recent New York Times article, "Glass Ceilings in Statehouses in the Northeast." For instance, the Times noted that women candidates are hindered by old-boys' networks endemic to political institutions, such as labor unions and political party machines. It also noted that women seeking executive political office are stymied by lack of prior executive-office experience.
There are other notable roadblocks on the way to the Holy Grail of politics -- executive office -- for future women candidates. To get past them, it is crucial for those of us who want more women in these offices to help candidates: big-time. Wonder why? Today, for instance, only five states have women governors, and only eight states have women attorneys general.
We need to act up. Here's how.
Women political donors should focus their fundraising on women candidates for executive office. These races are expensive. Significant opportunities for advancement don't come along all that often. (Surprise! Incumbents like being governor, or attorney general, or secretary of state, say.) We need to make sure every pro-women candidate has the resources she needs to compete, including against self-funded male candidates like the one who beat Schwartz.
Women's political organizations should make recruitment and training of strong executive-office women candidates a priority. Increasingly, that's where public policy is made and, as the Times pointed-out, that's where the spoils are. Holding executive office also gets you the next executive office, as the Times also noted. Ever wonder how many U.S. senators have become president? That would be 16 of 44.
At a time when so many voters disdain politics -- and the longer one serves the more disdainful voters can become -- would-be women political executives need to make the case to voters that they remain outsiders, however long in office. This will be difficult for some. For instance, Allyson Schwartz served in the U.S. House of Representatives for a decade. But, women remain outsiders: we are less than 20 percent of the U.S. Congress; on average, less than 25 percent of the members of state legislatures; and hold less than 25 percent of all statewide offices.
We need to encourage women who rise to leadership in male-run institutions -- whether in business, civic, or charitable contexts -- to run for executive political office. Clearly, these women have the skills and networks required. They've also proven they know how to play the men's game and win. Tellingly, the Times concluded its report with an account of Ella Grasso's rise to governor of Connecticut. She did so by rising to leadership and power in a male-run institution, that state's Democratic Party.
Yet, almost four decades later, today's first (New York) and second (Los Angeles) cities have yet to elect a woman mayor. In fact, less than 20 percent of 1,351 U.S. cities with populations over 30,000 are run by a woman mayor.
At the same time, women political donors and activists should work to break the hold political party officials have on picks for executive office, while remembering that not all women candidates are equal. (These donors and activists should only fight to advance women who are clearly for women. Otherwise, what's the point?)
Since clout is the coin of the realm of executive office --along with cash -- women with power should make it a priority to help aspiring political women obtain the executive appointments that so often yield the friendships and alliances a candidate needs to mount a successful executive-office campaign.
Let's also encourage the women who can to self-finance. Notwithstanding Meg Whitman's ignominious defeat after spending 160 million dollars, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. And, for those of you who don't like big corporate money in politics, I remind you of the wise counsel of U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, a fierce campaign finance reform advocate, to his fundraisers: "I'm not going to unilaterally disarm." No woman who thinks she can do the job should either.
We should encourage women candidates to play the quota game. Wonder why New York Governor Andrew Cuomo chose Kathy Hochul to be his running mate next time? Could it be because white men were the statewide candidates last time? Fear this strategy? Don't. The most important issues executive officials address, e.g., safety, economic security and health care, are "women's issues."
All but three U.S. women governors -- and every single woman state attorney general -- have been elected in my lifetime. I'm not all that old. Time to ignore the speed limit and speed around the roadblocks, girlfriends.
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