How we elect more women
Co-authored with Norfolk City Councilmember Andria McClellan
As recently-elected female members of our city councils, we are thrilled by reports of increased enthusiasm from women in running for office, particularly Democrats inspired by recent events and, most notably, the last presidential campaign. The New York Times recently covered a “swell of interest” in events and organizations that help recruit and train prospective women candidates. EMILY's List, a group founded to support women candidates, reported that 10,000 women contacted the organization about running in the four months after the November election.
This surge in excitement must not be fleeting. Despite some important gains in recent years, women remain significantly underrepresented in elected office, including at the ground level where women hold just a quarter of all state legislative positions. As we have seen first-hand, women from Norfolk to Phoenix have long not received enough encouragement to enter politics, in part because they underestimate their potential despite a proven ability to govern effectively.
While many women, including ourselves, were dismayed by comments about women during the last campaign, and disappointed in the final results, we must now capitalize on the situation by taking full advantage of the momentum among aspiring candidates. Yes, it is important to support these individuals in fundraising and the nuts and bolts of campaign operations. However, we need more than enthusiasm to run, win, and dramatically change the presence of women in elected office. We must position talented women candidates to be ready to succeed in policy-making and in leading their peers. That requires supporting them in developing ideas to address our challenging economy. It means leveraging networks like the NewDEAL — a select group of 150 local and state Democratic officeholders (women and men) who are having success and out-performing the top of the Democratic ticket using pro-growth progressive ideas.
Having the opportunity to participate in this organization has affirmed for us that when leaders focus on policies that expand economic opportunity for everyone and restore faith in government by making it work more efficiently, their message can resonate anywhere. NewDEAL members have proven that in diverse states throughout the country, from Arizona and Virginia, to Pennsylvania and Iowa. We have women mayors and city council presidents as well as innovative state and local legislators in red and blue states. They are talking about ideas that impact all workers and families across all backgrounds, like better workforce training starting with high school students, 21st century paid family leave, and assistance for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
So let’s keep encouraging more good people — especially women — to run. But let’s not forget that for this movement to succeed, and for Democrats to build a desperately-needed bench at the state and local level, our candidates need to be prepared with the most effective messages and policies.