Women and Politics

A blog from WCF about the state of women and politics

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The 2010 Election: A Fundamental Threat to Women’s Fundamental Rights

As is abundantly clear by now, the 2010 election was not a good one either for increasing representation of women in government writ large, nor for women’s reproductive health choices and options. The election resulted in the takeover of the United States House of Representatives by a profoundly conservative, white male majority largely represented by far-right wing Republicans and Tea Party candidates.

In the Senate, the 112th Congress will bring more conservatives with extreme stances on reproductive choice. Depending on results still pending in races in Alaska and Washington state, the Senate may also have fewer women. And while three women were elected as governor this round, all three of them are anti-choice.

Not all races have yet been decided (the results of Congressional races for two seats in Arizona remain unclear as of this posting, for example), but it is clear the number of women in Congress will either decline by one or more seats or stay relatively the same.  While new women representatives did win races and will be entering the House of Representatives, the majority of the 12 new congresswomen hold anti-choice views.  Some of the new, very conservative female House members will replace long-time incumbent conservative Democrats, such as Vicky Hartzler of Missouri who beat anti-choice incumbent Democrat Ike Skelton.  Others will replace solidly pro-choice House members, such as Sandy Adams of Florida, a strident anti-choice Tea Party candidate who ousted Congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas from her seat.

The picture in the Senate is somewhat murkier as several races still remain undeclared…

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Social Issues Become Election End-Game Strategy for Dems

Jodi Jacobson is one of WCF’s MsRepresentation bloggers in the final weeks of the 2010 election.

As undisclosed sources pour hundreds of millions of dollars into state and national races in favor of a conservative agenda, progressive and pro-choice groups have stepped up their campaign spending on behalf of candidates who support sexual and reproductive health and rights.

And candidates are focusing on the issues of choice as a motivating factor to get both Democratic and Independent women to the polls.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Polls show men leaning heavily Republican this year. That has Democrats and their backers trying in the campaign’s last days to spur left-leaning and independent women to vote, by emphasizing abortion and other social issues.

Democratic campaigns are bombarding female voters with messages about social issues on the stump and in debates, television ads, targeted phone calls and direct mail. In California’s Senate race, Sen. Barbara Boxer says Republican Carly Fiorina’s opposition to abortion would turn women into criminals, a contention the Fiorina campaign calls “outlandish.” In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet accuses his GOP opponent, Ken Buck, of wanting to ban common forms of birth control. Mr. Buck says he has changed his position.

It’s a cross-party play on bait and switch.  In the primaries, many of the conservatives now running for office, such as Buck, Fiorina, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Rand Paul in Kentucky, and Sharron Angle in Nevada, played hard right to their base by emphasizing their opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest.  They supported personhood amendments and “Right to Life” bills, glossing over or pretending not to understand the ramifications of such legislation such as, um, imprisoning women and physicians and outlawing virtually all forms of hormonal birth control.  They couldn’t talk enough about it.

The Democrats on the other hand, at least at the national level, were pretty silent on sexual and reproductive health and rights as they unfortunately have been for much of the past 20 months, except when on the defensive.  Now, the Republican and Tea Party candidates can’t stay far enough away from these issues in the general election, for fear of giving voters much more than just a Halloween fright, and the Dems can’t stop talking about them.

Why? Women are a critical, make-or-break voting block this election, and the Democrats now want to make sure that both Democratic and Independent women are clear on what voting for anti-choice candidates will mean….pretty much a steady stream of anti-choice legislation and posturing.

Pro-choice groups have stepped in to help get that message out.  Planned Parenthood Action Fund has mailed more than 1.4 million independent women voters “charging that Republicans oppose contraceptive coverage, women’s health funding and abortion rights, among other things.”  Other groups such as the NARAL Pro-Choice America, Emily’s List, and Women’s Campaign Forum all are working hard to support pro-choice candidates, and in the last two cases, female candidates.

The increasing clarity on the extreme positions on social issues of some Republican and Tea-Party candidates and the focus by progressive groups on choice issues is working for some.  California Senator Barbara Boxer is leading among women by 17 percentage points, up from a three-point lead in May, according to a recent Los Angeles Times survey. Internal Democratic polling shows Mr. Bennet in Colorado rising among women as well since August.

And, notes the Journal:

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced new initiatives aimed at aiding victims of domestic violence. Two days earlier, First Lady Michelle Obama headlined a lunch for women supporting Democratic Sen. Patty Murray in Washington state. Ms. Obama told the audience that Ms. Murray “came to this work because she wanted to solve problems. That is what we do as moms.”

But it’s a long uphill climb and time is short.

“It’s hard to switch the topic when voters are so overwhelmingly concerned about the economy, but a lot of these races are going to be decided by a few (percentage) points or less,” said Tom Jenson, a Democratic pollster. “Getting female voters fired up about these issues where they do agree with Democrats is helping.”

Jack Conway has focused on Paul’s opposition to health reform as a signal that he would undermine coverage of preventive care like mammograms, while Bennet has called Buck out on his support of extreme legislation.

At least among some women, the very fact that Democrats did not effectively defend issues like affordable access to family planning services in the stimulus or in health reform, and that coverage of abortion care was effectively eviscerated under health reform have combined with other concerns to weaken the party’s position with women who worked for them in the last election.  And that may be making their election-eve efforts just a bit harder.


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Tom Ganley: Time for Cooking Lessons?

Jodi Jacobson is one of WCF’s MsRepresentation bloggers in the final weeks of the 2010 election.

A second complaint of sexual harassment has been filed against Tom Ganley, the Republican congressional candidate in the 13th district of Ohio.  The first suit against Mr. Ganley, who back in April made clear he was no women’s rights advocate when he asked constituents to send Congresswoman Betty Sutton “back to the kitchen,” was filed by a former campaign volunteer.

Sutton, a Democrat, has raised $1.6 million for her campaign and has focused her campaign on issues that touch the middle class, but has also weighed in on veterans’ concerns and has touted her stance against credit-card companies by supporting the Credit Cardholder Bill of Rights.  She serves on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and is co-chairwoman of the Congressional Task Force on Job Creation.  She is supported by many labor groups, veterans organizations and women’s groups.

Ganley, running a largely self-financed campaign at this point, has spent $2.6 million of his own money on the race.  His primary focus has been on the need to trim the national debt and curb spending.  Ganley supports Arizona’s tough immigration law, and is keenly interested in prohibiting cities from providing sanctuary for illegal aliens.  A recent expose revealed that a group of corporations and legislators have been working together to promote Arizona-style immigration reform in other states. At this writing it could not be determined whether Ganley is part of that group.  Ganley is however considered one of the GOP’s ”young guns,” though the NRCC pulled its advertising funding out of his district after initial reports arose about sexual harassment.

Now a police report has now been filed by a Northeast Ohio woman, Dianne Hill, who alleges that in 2005, Ganley grabbed her buttocks while she and two other women were shopping for a car at Ganley’s Chevy dealership in Cleveland.

WKYC.com reports that, [a]fter the three chatted with Ganley in his office for nearly an hour, Hill says Ganley took them to see a car.

“As I went through the door, he didn’t just grab my buttocks. He carried my buttocks through the door,” Hill said.

Hill says she told police Ganley grabbed her again as they all walked back to his office after looking at the vehicle.

“I would see him wink at me. I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ In my head, I’m blaming myself for the first time I didn’t say something,” Hill said.

Days later, Hill says, Ganley asked Hill and her sister-in-law, who was trying to buy a car from Ganley, to meet him.

“He says, ‘I just want you to dress in some sexy lingerie and let me smack your butts,’” Hill said.

Ganley, through his lawyer, has denied the accusations.

Hill says she did not originally report the incident because she was afraid of Ganley’s connections. Then, upon learning of the other suit, felt she should step up.

“When I saw that on the news, right away I’m like, ‘that girl’s not lying. I need to go down there. I don’t care how long it’s been, and let them know that girl’s not lying,’” Hill said.

The Cleveland Police sergeant who took the report says he has just begun to investigate Hill’s allegations.

Mr. Ganley might want to think about some cooking lessons.


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Palin to Beck: I Support You

Jodi Jacobson is one of WCF’s MsRepresentation bloggers in the final weeks of the 2010 election.

Yesterday, Jill asked if it was crazy to expect that Sarah Palin would take seriously the request by Media Matters for America to get Glenn Beck to tone down the rhetoric that has been used as an excuse for violent actions by some of his followers. She noted that:

Palin just showed up as #1 on a Forbes list of the most influential women in politics, and violence and acceptance of discrimination feel like they’re everywhere.

Though I am deeply skeptical of the current Tea Party-Republican Party agenda for the country, even I thought for a second, “how could a person with serious aspirations pass this opportunity up?”

Palin could have crafted a statement calling on Beck to join her in a more civil discourse, to “tone it down,” and to ensure no one mistakes political positions for a call to violence. She could have dramatically improved her own “positives” overnight.

Instead, she did the opposite. Palin called into Beck’s program to give him her “full support.”  They then went on to engage in a discussion based on the same divisive language she was called on to repudiate, and made fun of the effort to call on her leadership as well.

It really made me wonder: Just how deeply has the money behind all of this penetrated and how corrupting has it become that these people won’t call for an end to the violent rhetoric and action?

Jill isn’t crazy.  She’s completely sane. It’s our current political climate that is crazy. And dangerous.


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Breaking News: Gender Discrimination Does Not Exist

Jodi Jacobson is one of WCF’s MsRepresentation bloggers in the final weeks of the 2010 election.

For the past 25 years I’ve been working on health and rights issues as a passion and professional career, as part of the broader movement to eliminate discrimination based on sex and gender.

But I should have spoken to Todd Lally first and more wisely chosen my career.  Because I just learned from Mr. Lally that gender and sex discrimination does not exist. Who knew?

Lally is the GOP nominee for Congress in Kentucky’s 3rd District.  He says, according to Talking Points Memo, that he’s never personally seen women discriminated against—therefore gender discrimination may not exist at all.

Shockingly, there may be some female voters in the Kentucky electorate who beg to differ with Mr. Lally.

TPM reports that the topic was raised by a female voter during the October 11 debate:

It is well known that we are the third-worst state for women to live in the nation. We rank at the bottom third of the nation in terms of health and well-being, equity, political leadership and education. I’d like to ask each gentleman what they have in their platform to address these disparities?

Lally’s response?

I look at women’s issues like any other issue. We have equal rights in this country, we have fought — women have fought very hard for those equal rights. Uh, it’s up to them. I mean my wife is a working woman, she works very, very hard and she’s been very successful. I’ve not seen any barriers in her career and I don’t believe that exists.

Sure, records show that the Lallys are successful. I have no reason to believe they have not earned their success.  Moreover, it is terrific to see a woman, any woman, succeeding in business.

But how does one leap from “if my wife is rich and successful, there are no barriers to women advancing economically or politically, you only have yourself to blame?”

So the fact that the gender-pay gap that has stagnated at around 80 cents on the dollar for decades?  It’s made up!  The fact that women are most likely found in low- or minimum-wage jobs without security, insurance, or enough income to feed a family?  Fairytale!  The reason the U.S. ranks 42nd in the world in maternal deaths? Has a lower proportion of female legislators than many developing countries? Old wives tales!  Discrimination against moms? Sexual harassment in the workplace? Being passed over for promotions because you have “family responsibilities? Myth, myth, myth.

And to keep the fun going, Lally’s opponent, Rep. John Yarmuth, brought the topic up during another debate. After giving data on the gender gap and how 1 in 3 women is sexually harassed at work, Yarmuth asked:

“How in the world, given all that data, can you say there’s no gender discrimination in the workplace?”

TPM reports that, “Lally responded by claiming he’s never seen any discrimination against women in his career in the military — he’s a former Air Force pilot and currently serves as a Lt. Col. in the state Air National Guard — or in his day job as a pilot for UPS.”

Lally’s position is in keeping with the new ultra-conservative philosophy (or maybe it’s the old one repackaged): If I, myself, am not poor, gay, a person of color, a woman facing discrimination, experiencing foreclosure due to malfeasance on the part of my bank, then clearly these things do not exist.

In other words, hunger, poverty, discrimination, sexual harassment, violence…These. Are. All. Figments. Of. Your. Imagination.  Get over yourself.

Facts? Pfffffffffttttt.  Who needs ‘em?

In the second debate, perhaps feeling that his bubble of privilege and power were about to be burst slightly, Lally did allow that, maybe, gender equity issues could be real.

“I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, it may exist, I mean surely we wouldn’t be talking about this issue if it didn’t exist,” he said. “I just have never seen it in my career and my life.”

Translation?  Women’s jobs and their role in the economy are “social issues” that are not relevant to the real and important world of jobs and economy (which clearly doesn’t include more than half the population).

I realize women have made many gains in the past two decades: More women now have college degrees than men and more women than men are in graduate school. There is a woman Speaker of the House and Secretary of State. But these are, in fact, somewhat symbolic gains until women gain parity in pay, shared work at home, the office, access to health care, and government.

And there are plenty of barriers to achieving these goals.  Moreover, clusters of prosperity and of achievement do not obscure the fact that, for example, the Census Data found that poverty increased more rapidly among women than men during the recession, and is getting worse.

And that is where the whole gender and sex discrimination thing comes in.  If it just doesn’t exist, then why haven’t those problems disappeared? Clearly, some of us need to get our facts straight.


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It’s the Positions, Stupid: Women Favor Candidates’ Views Over Junk in the Trunk

Jodi Jacobson is one of WCF’s MsRepresentation bloggers in the final weeks of the 2010 election.

An article in today’s Los Angeles Times at first seems like a revelation but makes eminent sense: Women voters favor the candidate that most represents their position on issues, not the ones that most represent them anatomically.

Or at least it makes sense to me.

Women, as a demographic group, are smart.  They know best the challenges they face in their own lives economically and otherwise, what they want for family and loved ones, and how tough it is to manage home, work, family, and the rest of life, even in the best of times.  To present them with and expect them to vote for a female candidate just because she is…female…is to suggest that women are lemmings.

I believe that in the abstract and in reality, every single demographic group in the United States that has been historically un- or under-represented in politics wants to see more of their own represent them.  That is why there is a push in progressive circles, at least, to get more women, people of color, and more diverse ethnic-group representation into public office.  It is a critical goal in both the short and the long run.

But “their own” means much more than just sex and gender.  I know that others of my colleagues disagree with me, but just supporting a woman because she is a woman is not, in my view, empowering.  You support candidates for office whom you feel are going to best represent and advance your interests. 

Which is why the majority of progressive black voters don’t just vote for any black candidate, the majority of Latinos don’t just vote for any Latino candidate, and the majority of women don’t just vote for any woman candidate.  To be blunt,  they are too smart for that.  People want more people who look like them but also think about and are concerned about their issues, and the latter trumps the former any day.

This is why it is no surprise to me that the LA Times article finds that, even with two women candidates on the ballot (Meg Whitman for Governor and Carly Fiorina for Senator) women in California go “well beyond party alliance in deciding how to vote.

In many ways, this is the problem with identity politics.  You don’t identify with everyone who is in your demographic group based on sex, gender, or even religion.  So while, as the Times notes, Whitman and Fiorina “have run campaigns premised in part on the belief that they could attract women voters who typically brush aside the Republican Party… new polls indicate that, if anything, women are treating their candidacies more harshly than are men.”

The Times points out the fundamental reasons for the assessment of women voters of these two women candidates:

There are several disadvantages for the Republican women now. Women voters have historically been more motivated by candidates who favor abortion rights; Whitman only favors some abortion rights and Fiorina has said she would support overturning Roe vs. Wade.

The Times poll also found that women are deeply concerned about issues such as global warming (disapproving of Proposition 23, which would suspend the state’s global warming law, by 20 points while  men disapproved by 11 points).  Fiorina and Whitman both have the “wrong” positions from the point of view of the majority of women on these issues.

And:

When asked in a new Los Angeles Times/USC poll which candidate for governor — Democrat Jerry Brown or Republican Whitman — was more truthful, likely male voters said Brown by a 15-point margin, and women said Brown by 25 points. When asked whether they were more concerned about Whitman’s sympathies for Wall Street or Brown’s ties to unions, men cited Brown as their concern, by a 13-point margin. Women, by a 17-point margin, that they were more worried about Whitman.

Overall, men sided with Brown by 3 points but women backed him by 21 points. In the Senate race, the poll found men siding with Fiorina over Democrat Barbara Boxer by 2 points, while women sided with Boxer by 17 points.

“What trumps gender with women is the same thing that trumps gender with men,” said Darry Sragow, a Democratic political consultant and interim director of the Times/USC poll. ” It’s, ‘Who is this person? What kind of person am I voting for here?’ as well as issues. Certainly, we’ve seen with the Whitman campaign that her problems are not about issues, it’s about personality and character.”

Put another way, women know when they see a fae in ewe’s clothing.


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Does Being a Mother Make You a Better Politician?

Does being a mother make you a better politician?

Mary Fallin (R), candidate for Governor in Oklahoma, thinks so. Her opponent, Jari Askins (D) is counting on voters to answer “not necessarily.”

It’s an odd question and a peculiar situation, on many levels.

For one thing, women have spent the better part of the last century trying to achieve equitable pay and equitable representation as compared to men in local, state and national government, and “motherhood” has often been used against them.  Women have had to justify the notion that being a woman who raises a child and runs a household is not just a “mother,” but a major contributor to the economy and society whose work is of much greater value than our society—which exalts motherhood as long as women do the work for free—has ascribed to it monetarily and otherwise.

Women have also had to prove that they can be mothers and be smart, work outside the home, and govern.

Motherhood has also been used as a pawn in the battle over family values.  These are challenges male politicians have never faced.

In a perfect storm of judgment and critique, women candidates for office have also had to justify not being a mother, as if this were a fatal flaw.  Most recently, for example, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, endured whispered and not-so-whispered questions about her personal life and her sexuality simply because she’d never been married and did not have kids, to a degree to which Justice David Souter, also never married, was simply never subject.

The broader goal of those seeking to elect more women has been to create an even playing field on which women can compete for office based not on whether they are mothers or wives, gay or straight, or of one or another ethnic or racial background, but based on on their ideas, their professional capacity, their personal integrity and the degree to which they appear to be willing to be held accountable by those they represent.

Given the historical struggle of women seeking to break into the male-dominated world of politics, it’s kind of strange now to have one woman candidate using her role as a mother in an effort to undermine, however indirectly, another woman on the campaign trail.

Fallin, 55, is a Republican congresswoman, who according to SFGate.com, “regularly mentions her new husband and their combined six children.”

Fallin, who had two children from a previous marriage, married a divorced father of four in November. She says her family and her experience as a businesswoman and officeholder have made her most qualified to be governor.

Askins is a long-time public servant and professional woman. She’s been a judge, a legislator, the head of a state agency, and a corporate attorney.

But, notes SFGate.com “what she hasn’t been is a wife.”

The 57-year-old career woman, who now serves as the state’s lieutenant governor, has never been married or had children. And as this historic race between two women candidates for the state’s top office nears its conclusion, that gap in her biography is attracting increasing attention.

That increasing attention comes courtesy of Fallin, who references her “mom-cred” frequently in campaign speeches as a way of getting a leg up on Askins.

But it seems at least a few voters of both parties are bothered by the attempt to use motherhood as a wedge issue.

In a campaign debate last week, Fallin’s reference to:

motherhood as a key difference between the two candidates, drew groans from some in the audience and stirred discussion about whether the emphasis on Askins’ unmarried status had gone too far.

Both Republicans and Democrats objected in interviews with SFGate.com

“I don’t understand why that’s important,” said Brenda Reneau, a Republican and former state labor commissioner, questioning why a candidate’s husband and children were worth stressing in a gubernatorial debate. “Is she going to bring them to work? I’ve never found one thing while I was in office that I needed experience in being married and having children.”

State Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, one of just 17 women serving in Oklahoma’s legislature, also described Fallin’s comment as a “cheap shot.”" McIntyre, a Democrat, told a reporter that Askins’ unmarried status “doesn’t have anything to do with anything.”

Laura Boyd, who was the state’s first female gubernatorial nominee when she ran in 1998, said she hopes voters will focus on other issues. “Oklahoma woman are beyond, and should be beyond that, by virtue of the fact we have this opportunity for a female chief executive,” said Boyd, a Democrat.

The discussion also has reached the national media. On The View this morning, conservative commentator Elizabeth Hasselback said that Fallin’s use of her motherhood was a step too far and had no place in the Oklahoma gubernatorial debate, stating that if [motherhood] shouldn’t be used to keep women from the work place then it shouldn’t be used to promote women in the work place. Speaking on MSNBC’s Jansing and Co., former Republican Congresswoman Susan Mulinari agreed with Hasselback.

But still some Fallin supporters insisted the contrast was appropriate.

“How can you not talk about family?” said Tulsa banker Charlotte Mindeman.

What promoting your “mom-cred” is supposed to reveal about you is not totally clear to me, since it seems most often to be used by conservatives whose support for programs that support children and families is shallow to say the least.  Fallin, for example, has voted six times against reauthorizing the children’s health insurance program.

Askins campaign manager Sid Hudson said in a statement: “While motherhood is not prerequisite for being governor, your voting record on children’s issues is.”

Hudson said Fallin has consistently voted against children and he pointed to a recent study published by a non-partisan, children’s advocacy group that gave Fallin an F on issues impacting children and called her one of the “worst representatives for children” in the country.

Hudson also noted that when it comes to the health of Oklahoma’s children, “Fallin voted against a critical children’s health insurance program that covers over 65,000 children from hard working Oklahoma families.”

Hudson notes that she “even opposed expanding coverage after it was shown it would not add to the debt and deficit.”

It seems to me that motherhood does not automatically make you any better or worse a candidate than does fatherhood, just as being a woman does not automatically make you any better or worse a candidate than does being a man. And given the dismal state of gay and lesbian rights in this country it is not even necessarily the case that everyone who wants to be a parent can become one, a fact that does not diminish the potential value of LGBT citizens in making contributions as political leaders.

Finally, the things that “make you a better politician” are often in the eye of the beholder. As a mother, I’d rather vote for an accountable, honest, progressive, pro-choice woman or man whether or not they were parents, rather than an anti-choice, dismantle-the-safety-net, let-corporations-run-the-country mother of five or six any day.


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