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MsRepresentation Daily Brief: October 30, 2010


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Sexist, Slanderous and Shameful

MsRep may not often agree with Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell on policy, but you’ve got to hand it to her–or technically her communication director Doug Sachtleben–for a statement decrying Gawker’s “one night stand” story as sexist, slanderous and shameful. “This story is just another example of the sexism and slander that female candidates are forced to deal with,” he said, via the candidate’s Facebook page. “Such attacks are truly shameful, but they will not distract us from making our case to Delaware voters.” We don’t think she makes a strong case, but Sachtleben is right that she should be able to make it without dealing with this junk.

Attack Money Aimed at Pro-Choice Candidates

Sharon Johnson of Women’s eNews reports that a lot late money during the 2010 midterms–the first cycle following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling–is being dumped into ads attacking pro-choice candidates.

Pow(er) Wow

Pretty cool development out West, as reported in USA Today: New Mexico state senator Lynda Lovejoy’s campaign to become the first female president of the Navajo Nation is “the closest any woman has come to heading the 300,000-member nation, which spreads across parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.”

You’ve Come a Long Way….Maybe?

That’s the provocative theme of an essay by The Nation’s Greg Mitchell, who takes us back to the mostly forgotten 1962 California gubernatorial race between Richard Nixon and Helen Gahagan Douglas. In many ways, the treatment of Douglas back then foreshadowed much of what we still see today when women run for high office.

Steinem: Real Mama Grizzlies Vote Pro-Choice

After reminding us that many conservative and/Republican politics of a bygone era–including both eventual presidents George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan–were originally pro-choice before caving to conservative pressure, Gloria Steinem drops some knowledge:

“In this country, however, right-wing opposition to sex education in public schools and to birth control as preventive health care?indeed, opposition to same-sex couples or any admission that human sexuality is not now and never has been solely about reproduction?has contributed to the highest teenage birthrate in any developed country. Indeed, 60 percent of all U.S. births are unplanned. That’s twice the rate of unintended pregnancies in comparable nations.”

Women Govs Govern Differently

Not much surprising here to report, but at least somebody has crunched the numbers: After examining governors’ state-of-the-state speeches between 2006 and 2007, political scientist Brianne Heidbreder of Kansas State University found distinct differences in the policy agendas of male and female governors–but attributable not so much to their gender as their partisan affiliations.

State Update: NH, NV & NY

Top female politicians in New Hampshire, including Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, got together Thursday on a panel hosted by the University of New Hampshire to discuss the role of women in government; The Hill continues a theme MsRep seems to report daily: In Nevada congressional race, SEIU is hoping to pull Congresswoman Dina Titus over the finish line next Tuesday by appealing to female voters; in the New Roosevelt Institute’s Bill Samuels writes that “there is one surefire way voters can help the cause–electing more women to the state legislature.”

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MsRepresentation Daily Brief: October 28, 2010


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Year of the Woman…Well, Sort of…

Are politicos overusing the phrase “Year of the Woman?” Is the talk of record-breaking numbers of women running correct? Well, sort of. CAWP reports that a record number of women filed for office this year—a total of 324 between U.S. Senate, House, and Governor. However, only a marginally record-breaking number actually won their primaries: 162 this year, compared with 161 in 2004. (163 if you count Sen. Murkowski’s write-in campaign in AK). CNN’s Kristi Keck pontificates on women candidates versus women voters’ enthusiasm.

Obama’s Rally for Markey

On last night’s much-anticipated Daily Show interview with Barack Obama, the President gave very few plugs for specific candidates, but did give a shout-out to Rep. Betsy Markey, running for re-election in CO-04. We cheered, just a little. (OK, maybe a lot).

Breaking News: Gender Discrimination Does Not Exist

Yep, mission complete…or mission never needed, according to KY-03 candidate Todd Lally. Jodi gives Lally the lowdown on gender discrimination.

Hear the Roar of the Grizzly

ElectWomen Magazine reports on Forbes’ list of Top 25 most influential women during the midterm cycle. FYI, Mama Grizzly Palin is ranked 1st, First Lady Michelle Obama 2nd, the House Speaker 3rd, followed by California’s Meg Whitman and Fiorina. Check out the rest here. But will the #1 most influential woman ask Glenn Beck to take it down a notch, as requested by Media Matters?

Dumb and Dumber in Kentucky

Proving Ginni Thomas has nothing on him, Rand Paul supporter Tim Profitt said he thinks he should get an apology from the female protester whose head he stepped on Monday night. (Now women getting involved with politics have to worry about violence?) In a related development, Paul has reversed field, saying that he will not return Profitt’s contribution to the campaign. Words fail MsRep.

The Beyonce Bounce

Unmarried women—the single ladies—are at last starting to engage this cycle, The Hill reports.

Justice Ginsburg Says Nine Women on High Court is Right Number

During the Women’s Conference, the venerable ABC News broadcaster Diane Sawyer sat down with former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and current Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to discuss their experiences on the Supreme Court. Best quote? When asked how many women on the Bench would be the right number, Ginsburg responded:

“Nine,” Ginsburg replied with a smile. “There’ve been nine men there for a long time, right? So why not nine women?”

Not My Guy?

The New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg and Megan Thee-Brenan roll out a major article this morning about a poll that shows certain groups disaffected with—and defecting from—President Barack Obama’s 2008 coalition, including women.

Murky for Murkowski

Lots of developments in that wacky Alasky Senate race. After a lower court ruled that voters could not see a list of write-in candidates—which includes incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski—the Alaska Supreme Court disagreed, and overruled the decision. This is good news for Murkowski, who is now targeting the Democratic opponent in her ads, as her Tea Party defeater seems to be self-destructing.

Re-Boot: Grandsons of Hewlett, Packard Crash Fiorina’s Computer

Talk about a hardware problem: Heirs to the Hewlett-Packard fortune say California Senate challenger Carly Fiorina will let voters down, “just as she did the employees and shareholders of HP.”

The Hunt for Blunt: Carnahan’s Opponent Runs From Media

In Missouri, Roy Blunt is trying to run out the clock on Robin Carnahan, which means trying appear in public as little as possible and not engage the media. Actually, not a bad idea given how he lost his cool when a reporter dared to ask about Blunt’s growing undocumented worker scandal.

X v. X Dispatches, Vol. 5: Sandlin Surging

Proving that money ain’t everything, WCF-endorsed incumbent Democrat Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota has moved into the lead, 45 percent to 42 percent, over her Republican challenger Kristi Noem—despite being outspent by a mile in this key race.

Grandma Made Me Do It

ElectWomen Mag also has a nice profile of grandmother-inspired Ohio Lt. Governor candidate, and Ted Strickland’s running mate, Yvette McGee Brown. Oh, and she gives a darn good motivational campaign speech. Take a look:

“Sex, Violence and Exploitation of Women”

No, that’s not the title of a new Steven Soderbergh film. It’s a line from a Planned Parenthood mailer chastising Connecticut Senate candidate Linda McMahon for profiting on WWE’s misogynistic depictions of women. “Linda McMahon is an out-of-touch millionaire who made her fortune from sex, violence, and exploitation of women,” the PPFA flyer reads.

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Christine O’Donnell: Not the Female Senator I Had in Mind

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

Disclosure #1: I can’t vote in Delaware

Disclosure #2: I want to see more women in positions of power, but for me, a candidate’s positions, commitment, vision and integrity together are all ultimately more important than their sex.

I am not terribly worried about my inability to vote in Delaware given that many current polls show New Castle County executive Chris Coons to be between 16 and 19 points ahead of his opponent, Tea Party/Republican candidate Christine O’Donnell.  Elections are volatile and I have no crystal ball, but in this case it seems a fair guess that the Democrats will keep this Senate seat.

That it will go to a man instead of at least adding one woman to the Senate to make up for the loss of another woman (Senator Lisa Murkowski, unless she wins a write-in bid), is a hard blow. However, the seat must go to the right person, who will defend women’s rights.  And O’Donnell is not that person.

There were several times during last night’s debate between O’Donnell and Coons when she could not offer an articulate answer to critically important questions. (Full transcript here.) For example, asked to name recent Supreme Court decisions with which she disagrees, O’Donnell couldn’t think of any and promised to put it up on her website.

While she never passed herself off as a constitutional scholar, she is running for the Senate, and  Senators have terrific responsibilities of advice and consent in the process of nominating Supreme Court justices, and in crafting laws that may end up being contested in court.  Given what is at stake in this country today, any politician for the U.S. Senate must have a working knowledge of legal decisions made by the Court in the last 10, 20, 30 years. And even if, given the conservative nature of the court, she did not disagree with many decisions in the past, say, 10 years, she could have said that.

Instead, in a response right out of the Sarah Palin-Katie Couric interview, she came across as unprepared and, worse, dismissive of the fact that she did not have knowledge of high court decisions.  These may seem abstractions to many of us on a daily basis, but these decisions affect the real lives of real people every day.

Her positions on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) were incomprehensible.  She compared DADT to regulations in the military governing personal behavior, such as those against adultery.  These are not the same.  One set of rules applies to everyone, the other applies to one class of people and discriminates against them based on who they are fundamentally as people, not how they behave.

To my knowledge, no one has ever asked heterosexuals to hide their heterosexuality.  And given that O’Donnell has professed deeply problematic views on homosexuality in the past, and also shunned a once-loyal aide because he came out as being gay, this is not about “military readiness and unit cohesion.”  It’s discrimination, plain and simple.

Equally comprehensible and troubling were her positions on education, as gleaned from this exchange on evolution:

BLITZER: Let’s give you a chance to respond to some of the things she said because in a television appearance back in 1998 on Bill Maher’s show you said evolution is a myth. Do you believe evolution is a myth?

O’DONNELL: I believe that the local — I was talking about what a local school taught and that should be taught — that should be decided on the local community. But please let me respond to what he just said.

BLITZER: We’ll let you respond but answer the question. Do you believe evolution is a myth?

O’DONNELL: Local schools should make that decision. I made that remark based on –

BLITZER: What do you believe?

O’DONNELL: What I believe is irrelevant.

BLITZER: Why is it irrelevant?

O’DONNELL: Because what I would support …

BLITZER: Voters want to know.

O’DONNELL: What I will support in Washington, D.C. is the ability for the local school system to decide what is taught in their classrooms and what I was talking about on that show was a classroom that was not allowed to teach creationism as an equal theory as evolution. That is against their constitutional rights and that is an overreaching arm of the government.

Actually no. It’s a great piece of red meat to throw to the extreme right, but local school districts should not get to decide whether or not sound and tested scientific theories are “myths.”

Those debates are for the entirety of the scientific community to test, explore, debate and on which to come to consensus.  Do we leave up to local school districts whether dolphins are mammals, calculus is a form of math, and cadmium is an element found on the periodic table?

There were many problems with O’Donnell’s performance in the debate and her clearly superficial understanding of many complex problems with which we have to grapple was deeply disturbing. What is most disturbing to me coming from O’Donnell, and other candidates of the ultra-conservative right, is the cavalier way in which they address profound issues in order to score political points. I no longer believe these folks even believe half of what they say themselves and certainly often don’t understand the implications.

On Roe v. Wade, for example, O’Donnell stated:

Well, let me say, about Roe versus Wade, Roe versus Wade, if that were overturned, would not make abortion illegal in the United States, it would put the power back to the states.

Yes, technically it could—depending on how such a decision were rendered by the Court.  But, that begs the most profound points.  First of all, O’Donnell is, if taken at her word, deeply anti-choice. Her website states O’Donnell’s position as such:

Strongly believes in protecting the sanctity of life at ALL stages.

What exactly does this mean?  From the moment of fertilization?  Or pregnancy?  It matters, because those who support the personhood of fertilized eggs would outlaw virtually all forms of contraception except barrier methods. Does O’Donnell support banning contraception?

Moreover, does O’Donnell see the “sanctity” of a fetus’ life as being more important than say that of a pregnant woman with cancer who needs treatment?  Would she deny women the right to terminate a pregnancy found to have fetal abnormalities incompatible with life?  Does she realize how profoundly these positions, if enacted into law, would affect women’s lives on almost every level?

O’Donnell did not clarify any of this.  Instead she tried to fudge during the debate by deflecting to and twisting issues of rape and incest.

STUDENT QUESTION:  What is your stance on abortion, including in cases of rape and incest.

O’DONNELL:  I believe there has been a profound loss of respect for the dignity of human life, and that is reflected in a lot of our policies, whether it is cutting taxes exemptions for disabled, low-income citizens in New Castle County, or with abortion.  I respect the human dignity on all levels, the unrepeatable precious human dignity on all levels.  And my opponent and others will use the scare tactic about rape and incest when that is less than 1 percent of all abortions
performed in America.

I am not sure where she is getting her figures on abortions due to rape and incest, but what is the point in any case?  That we should not allow safe abortion services for victims of rape and incest because only a relatively few are victims of these crimes?

And to call rape an incest “scare tactics?” It seems to me cruel that any person watching that debate who has suffered the trauma of rape or incest would have to hear a politician entirely dismiss their experiences.

Give me a thoughtful, informed progressive woman. Or at least give me a thoughtful, informed progressive man or transgender person who truly believes in women and their rights.

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Who Needs More Women on the Bench? Everyone.

This post was submitted by Rebecca Freedholm, WCF Communications Fellow

Yesterday my colleague, Sophie, made a strong argument for why Kagan’s gender is an important factor in her nomination to the Supreme Court—we need more women (especially women as well-qualified as Kagan) on the bench to advance women’s role in government and to protect the rights of all women. She’s absolutely right.

Furthermore, increasing the number of women in prominent judicial positions is bound to enhance “the quality of justice” altogether. As Amy Matsui from the National Women’s Law Center indicates, recent studies reveal women’s presence in the courts can make a crucial difference in the judicial decision-making process.

So when Ronni Berke and Carol Costello from CNN beg the question, “Do female judges rule differently than men,” the answer is a resounding “yes.” Not only are women proven to rule differently than men in a range federal court cases, but also the mere presence of women on the federal bench can influence how male judges vote. Marcia Greenberger made this case yesterday in her testimonial for Kagan:

“One recent study demonstrated that male federal appellate court judges are more likely to see aspects of the law differently, particularly regarding claims of sex discrimination, if a female judge is on the panel. This may be because, as Justice Ginsburg said in a speech last year, ‘Even though a wise old man and a wise old woman will reach the same decision, there are life experiences a woman has that come from growing up in a woman’s body that men don’t have.’”

Women bring a critical perspective to court, and as Lily Ledbetter emphasized in Kagan’s hearings, “who is on the Supreme Court makes all the difference.” Ledbetter’s case not only confirms that sex discrimination still exists in the workplace, but that female representation on the Supreme Court is vital in ensuring that women’s voices on issues of discrimination are truly heard.

A diverse, gender-balanced Supreme Court is necessary for protecting the rights of all citizens.

“This study brings home how important it is to have a woman’s voice in the judicial decision-making process for courts to arrive at a good decision at the end of the day, and to have justice that serves both men and women. And other studies suggest the more women there are, the more impact they have.”

We need more women on the Supreme Court. Having Elena Kagan on the bench will increase women’s representation in our courts, improve the quality of the judicial decision-making process, and will more effectively serve the American people.

Yes, It Does Matter That Kagan is a Woman

This post was submitted by Sophie Shulman, WCF Communications Fellow

Throughout the first few days of hearings to confirm Solicitor General Elena Kagan as the next Supreme Court Justice, the women on the Judiciary Committee, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Dianne Feinstein, have repeatedly brought up Kagan’s gender as a reason to support her nomination.

Eva Rodriguez at the Washington Post asked her readers yesterday whether this was appropriate—or necessary.

“Yes, Kagan was the first woman to serve as dean of Harvard Law School. Yes, she broke the glass ceiling to become the first female solicitor general of the United States. So what? Would anyone on the panel have praised a white, male nominee for being a great role model for young men? I seriously doubt it.”

While I admire Rodriguez’s perspective that women no longer need to fight to get access to the same opportunities as men, I can’t help but think we’re not there yet. As Sen. Feinstein noted during the hearings, recent cases such as Ledbetter prove that women still make less money than men—decades after women began to challenge the status quo.

And women are still seriously underrepresented in government, making up only 17% of Congress. Yes, we have made progress. But that does not mean that women have won the war.

Rodriguez also claimed that Kagan has not received special attention because of her gender as she has risen in political life.

“I was pleased that little attention was paid to the fact that she is a woman when she was nominated as solicitor general and then to the Supreme Court.”

Clearly, Rodriguez wasn’t taking into consideration the sexist attacks on Kagan’s appearance, sexual orientation, and marital status since President Obama announced his selection. Indeed, the question should not be whether male nominees would be described as role models for young men—but whether a man would be questioned about his sexual preferences just because he has chosen not marry.

I think we should all hope—and work to create—the world that Rodriguez described. But we’re just not there yet. Three women on a Court of nine Justices is not equal representation. And the cases heard by the Supreme Court have an enormous impact on the day-to-day lives of American women. Protecting women’s reproductive health choices and fighting for pay equity are not issues that men in government have often prioritized.

So yes, it does matter that Solicitor General Kagan is a woman, because she will set a good example for young women, make one more crack in the glass ceiling, and bring her unique knowledge and experiences to the Court.

Women’s Rights Central on Opening Day of Kagan’s Hearings

This post was submitted by Sophie Shulman, WCF Communications Fellow

Yesterday marked the beginning of Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s confirmation process to become the next Justice of the Supreme Court. Despite her high office in the U.S. government and extensive legal experience, the fact that Kagan is a progressive woman has attracted a great deal of controversy—leading social conservatives to criticize her lack of judicial experience, appearance, and position on women’s reproductive rights.

Sound familiar? The eminently qualified Sonia Sotomayor was questioned about her experience as well. But in fact, many of the most famous and well-respected Justices were not judges before being appointed to the Court. Senator Dianne Feinstein defended Kagan by reminding the Senate Judiciary Committee that:

“The Roberts court is the first to be comprised entirely of former federal Court of Appeals judges.”

On Monday, through thinly veiled compliments about her academic expertise, social conservatives on the Committee hinted at the type of issues they will try to use to block her nomination. One of the major criticisms leveled at Kagan involved her history of involvement with political issues—AKA, Judicial Activism.

But let’s remember how social conservatives approved countless politically-minded judges while President Bush was in charge of the nominations—but now that progressives have an opportunity to simply maintain the balance of the Court—activism is considered a major issue. As Senator Chuck Schumer eloquently put it:

“Judicial activism now has a new guise—activism to pull our country to the right.”

And one of the issues that the right is most ardently concerned with is that of a woman’s right to make her own health choices. In fact, there were anti-choice protesters outside of Kagan’s hearings yesterday—and conservative Senators frequently alluded to their fear that Kagan would uphold Roe v. Wade.

But despite their supposed fear of judicial activism, these anti-choice politicians would most likely celebrate the active upheaval of the 30 years of jurisprudence that is a woman’s right to choose.

That is precisely why it’s so important that we have another woman on the Court. As Kagan said yesterday:

“I owe a debt of gratitude to two other living Justices. Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg paved the way for me and so many other women in my generation. Their pioneering lives have created boundless possibilities for women in the law.”

Their careers have also created opportunities for all American women. By standing up for the values that allow women to freely pursue careers and achieve equality, Justices like Ruth Bader Ginsburg have significantly affected countless women’s lives. Cases such as Ledbetter have proven that having women on the Court does matter, because their experiences and perspectives are different from the six male Justices.

With any luck, Kagan will soon be approved as the next woman who will fight for women’s equality and inspire others to follow in her path. Senator John Kerry described Kagan’s bipartisanship and equanimity, saying that Kagan is:

“The type of judge you would want if you weren’t sure what side you wanted to win.”

As we saw with Sotomayor, the hearings only heat up as we go along. But yesterday, Sen. Sessions called for more candor in the confirmation process—here at WCF, we agree. While Kagan herself has shown her commitment to thorough and open hearings, let’s hope that the Senators will do the same—these hearings should be about Kagan’s qualifications—and nothing else.

Robert Bork Attacks Kagan for Fighting for Women

This post was submitted by Sophie Shulman, WCF Communications Fellow

With Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings set to start next week, the media has been buzzing about potential areas of weakness, conflict, and utilizing the sexist language that seems to be the accepted discourse around women in politics.

Surprisingly, previously rejected Supreme Court nominee, Robert Bork, has entered into the conversation. Bork, who was also serving as Solicitor General when he was nominated, faced one of the most controversial confirmation processes in U.S. history, and was ultimately rejected by the Senate because of his adamantly anti-choice stance.

And now it appears that Bork would like to make Kagan’s confirmation process just as contentious. Now working with the Americans United for Life to oppose Kagan, Bork claimed that:

“The one thing the republicans would gain by making an issue of the Kagan hearings is a little integrity for future battles…[they would lose] their reputation for rolling over any time a woman or a liberal is nominated.”

Clearly, anti-choice conservatives are determined to focus Kagan’s confirmation on the most controversial issue as possible. While Kagan has made clear her position on women’s reproductive health choices and maintaining the legal precedent set in Roe v. Wade, getting more women on the Supreme Court should not be isolated to a single issue.

Not only does Kagan have years of experience as U.S. Solicitor General, Dean of Harvard Law, and as a law clerk for Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall, there are also numerous documents released from her time in the Clinton White House—displaying her views and expertise on several topics.

I would hope that someone like Robert Bork—who endured a humiliating confirmation process despite his numerous qualifications—would not want to subject another talented candidate to the same experience. Indeed, Kagan herself has complimented Bork for his openness during his confirmation:

“Not since Bork has any nominee candidly discussed, or felt a need to discuss, his or her views and philosophy.”

Instead, Bork and his fellow social conservatives seem determined to keep another “woman” or “liberal” off the Supreme Court—at all costs. Despite this, the sitting members of the Court seem not to mind that Kagan has worked in politics, and in fact, even conservative members have come out on her side. Justice Scalia, one of the most right-wing members of the Court, recently said:

“. . . I am happy to see that this latest nominee is not a federal judge – and not a judge at all.”

Justices Kennedy and Stevens have also expressed their admiration for the Solicitor General. Considering these numerous endorsements by sitting members, a former President, and several previous Solicitors General, among others, it will be remarkable if the anti-choice, anti-woman movement succeeds in derailing her nomination. However, we can almost expect that they will turn the confirmation process into a misogynistic circus.

Already this year we’ve seen many examples of extraordinary women rejected by the Old Boys’ Club—and we don’t want to see that happen to Elena Kagan. The Supreme Court needs more women—and it needs more Justices who will fight for a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health choices.

Sexism has no place in politics or Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Get ready to stand up for Kagan as she starts her hearings on Monday!

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