Does it make a difference if a man or a woman represents you in Congress, city hall or the state legislature?
With the attitude “don’t get mad, get elected” there’s a new effort to put more women in public office this year.
Women hold 17 percent of U.S. Senate seats and about 16 percent in the House. Around the country there are only six female governors.
In Washington, we might have a rosier view of women in politics because we have a female governor, two high profile Senators, and two Congresswomen.
However, since 1992 there has been a steady erosion of the percentage of women in our state who hold public office.
“We used to have 40 percent, the highest in the nation in 1992 actually,” says Cathy Allen , a political consultant who specializes in getting women elected to office. “Since that time we’ve now slipped on down so we’re at 32 percent right now and that’s just not right for a place like Washington state.”
Anyone can run for office, so what’s holding women back? The answer to that question begins by realizing how men and women are different in politics.
“Men grow up thinking that they want to be president of the United States and they focus their entire lives around becoming president of the United States one day. Women come to politics because they see something that needs to be accomplished, and all of a sudden they’re running for office,” says Linda Mitchell, President of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington .
One of the beliefs holding women back, she says, is that women feel like they need to accomplish many things before they run for office. Their kids need to be certain ages or they need to have a high level of work experience that can be transferred to a political career. Men, in general, assume they have whatever skills needed and don’t have family restrictions, so they jump in more often.
Allen says “the money, the money, the money” also causes women to hold off on running for an elected position. They’re more hesitant to ask for campaign contributions on the phone, in person or soliciting online donations.
Allen and Mitchell are involved with a national effort called The 2012 project to get more women elected, not only in high profile national positions, but as state lawmakers, mayors, judges, and school board members. The project will walk women through the steps of raising money, organizing a campaign and supporting other women who want to run for office. The first general campaign training session is next month in Tukwila.
Again, does it make a difference if a man or a woman holds an elective office?
“Not really, but always,” Allen says. “We’re not the status quo, we don’t want to be the status quo but we would like to have a voice. We also have characteristics that are different from men. Women are known for listening more than they talk. They’re known for making sure everyone’s at the table, so if there’s somebody left out of the loop that’s part of a different ethnicity or income group, they make sure they’re there.”
This year there will be 20 seats in the state legislature, four statewide offices, and a new congressional seat up for grabs.
“Any woman who will take the energy and time to be able to make a difference in terms of elected office, we want them, we want them,” says Allen.
She really means “any” woman, as she asks me if I’d be interested in running for a political office? My answer, “No, no, no, no, no.”
Mitchell says women generally need to be asked to run for office three times before they’ll consider it. That’s another difference between men and women. Men are more likely to run after being asked only once.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo: Sen. Patty Murray, one of the most powerful Washington women in politics.