American politics is changing, and not always in wholesome ways. But this one, if it can be sustained, augurs well for the country: In numbers never seen before, women are suiting up to campaign for public office.
It’s no secret that high office had long been the province of men. Even today, well into the 21st century, women’s numbers in Congress don’t come close to matching their share of the population. As of last June, only 84 of the 535 members of the House of Representatives were women and only 20 of the 100 senators. Each represents about – or exactly – 20 percent of their chamber.
It’s not much better in Albany. There, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, women comprise 27.7 percent of the two chambers, with 45 in the Assembly and 14 in the Senate. In the Senate, Catharine Young, of Olean, chairs the Senate Republican Campaign Committee and is passionate expanding government to include more women.
The only woman in statewide office here is Kathy Hochul, a former congresswoman and Erie County Clerk who has made a mission of recruiting more women into politics. She has identified what she calls the “Four Cs” that hinder their involvement: confidence; cash (having to raise it); culture; and childcare. To a great extent, she said, they just have to get over it.
Many now are.
The change may have begun with the election of President Trump, as women reacted not only to the defeat of the first female nominee of a major political party, but also recoiled from his casual, inadvertently recorded acknowledgment of groping women at will. The day after he was sworn in, women marched in Washington in numbers greater than those who came for the inauguration. Hochul sees those events as transformative.
But it was more than that. The president’s self-confessed misconduct may have helped overcome the inertia of reluctance, but the #MeToo movement became a force with the outing of movie mogul and serial abuser Harvey Weinstein. That set off a social explosion whose repercussions are influencing everything from business to entertainment to politics.
Women, it seems, are tired of being passengers in public life. More and more, they are determined to drive. Having won the right to vote almost 100 years ago, they now want to be the ones that women – and men – vote for. And at all levels of government. It’s a good sign.
Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List, says the change is startling. Speaking to The New York Times, she said that in the 10 months before the 2016 election, about 1,000 women contacted her organization about running for office or becoming otherwise involved. Since then, she said, the number has surpassed 22,000.
“We have never seen anything like what we have seen over the last 12 months,” she said. “If you could underline that four times, that’s what I mean.”
And that was in December. Since then, the trend has shown no letup and while, perhaps predictably, it mainly features Democratic women, Republican women are also stepping up. That’s essential if the point isn’t simply to respond to the politics of the moment, but to influence the country’s direction by bringing more women into government.
Hochul agrees. As a Democrat, she says it is mainly other Democrats who are drawn to the sessions she holds on encouraging women into politics. But, she says, she has offered her counsel in bipartisan events. While she doesn’t support all female candidates – policies matter – the general goal is more women overall.
There is no reason to think Republican woman would be any less incensed by sexual harassment than Democrats. And as Young observed, women may come to the table with different perspectives on any number of issues and, among them, sexual harassment may be especially notable.
If that brings growing numbers of conservative women into electoral politics, so much the better. Add to that women who are Muslim, Jewish, black, gay, Native American or belonging to any other under-represented group. Government works best when the greatest number of citizens are committed to its functioning.
That, in the end, is the reason for all Americans to welcome this encouraging trend – one that is drawing in people who, for whatever reason, have worked mainly on the fringes of public life. There is a difference between running and winning, of course, but it takes the former to accomplish the latter. But the country stands to benefit because women are now stepping up.