Meet the Woman Shaking Up Kentucky Politics
For the first time in nearly 20 years, a black woman has been elected to the Kentucky State Legislature. After winning a 3-way Democratic primary and defeating a 34-year incumbent, Attica Scott will bring a decidedly different voice to the Kentucky State House. This mother turned activist turned state representative spoke with Glamour about what inspires her and how she owes her success to the women who fought for her.
Krystal Ball: Research shows that women tend to be less likely to see themselves as candidates for office and less likely to get asked to run for office. What initially inspired you to run?
Attica Scott: I had studied politics as an undergrad and so was interested academically but what made me decide to eventually run for office, initially for school board, were my kids. I wanted to make sure I was in a position to make decisions that would have the best impact for them and for other kids.
Krystal Ball: You have written very personally and powerfully about the impact your kids have had on you and in particular how being the mother of a black teenage son has impacted your views on racial justice in policing. This personal connection as a mother was really core to your campaign. Did you see that approach connect with people in your community?
Attica Scott: I did because Kentucky House District 41 is 61 percent women so I knew my story would resonate with a lot of voters in the district. Whether or not you have to have “the conversation” with your kids about police safety, you are have to have a conversation with your kids about safety on many other levels whether it’s dating violence or other types of violence. As moms we have to confront these tough issues with our kids regardless of our race.
Krystal Ball: Your district is racially mixed and the incumbent you defeated was a white male. Did you see a racial divide in your district?
Attica Scott: I have to say that my district was absolutely amazing. There was so much support and love and energy for my campaign. It was phenomenal the number of people who came out and voted for a fresh face and a new voice in Frankfort. To me that shows that we are in the 21st Century and voters realize that we need representatives that reflect that we are moving forward in Kentucky rather than being left behind.
Krystal Ball: I ran for Congress in 2010 and was shocked by some of the sexism I faced including people telling me that they didn’t think I should be running for anything except after my kids. Did you face any really blatant sexism?
Attica Scott: I think in this campaign folks here in Louisville have learned from the past few years and the way women are standing up for themselves and for others. In our legislature we as women were attacked the entire time our legislature was in session this year so we’d already had plenty of attacks on us as a whole. I will say that during my time on the Louisville Metro Council I definitely faced some sexism and even some questionable attitudes toward me as someone who’s black. I went to Ferguson and wrote an op-ed about Michael Brown. In response a police officer actually wrote that I had abandoned my own children to go fight for someone else’s child. It’s that kind of thing that those of us in activism and social justice face because we are willing to speak up and stand up.
Krystal Ball: Democratic women had an unbelievable night on Tuesday winning up and down the ballot, do you think Hillary Clinton is having a positive impact on women running for office this year?
Attica Scott: I think that Secretary Clinton is definitely having a positive impact on women running for office. People see how strong she is and how well she’s running and it’s helping people to pay more attention to the women who are on the ballot for state and local office. I also have to give kudos and credit to a women’s training program I went through called Emerge Kentucky. Emerge helped many of the women who were on the ballot on Tuesday get to where we are. Emerge women had a 100% victory rate on Tuesday. It was huge!
Krystal Ball: You will be the first African American woman elected to the Kentucky legislature in almost two decades, why have there been so few?
Attica Scott: There are to me 3 reasons why that’s the case. One goes back to the notion that as women we don’t often get asked to serve and add on top of that being a woman of color, we just don’t often get looked at as the people for political leadership. The second reason is that for me in part because we would look at a district like mine and say: “Oh that district is split down the middle between black and white. I don’t know if a black woman can win this particular district.” Well, if you believe in someone and there ability then you’re going to get to work to help them win regardless of their race or gender. The third reason is because Kentucky could just do a much better job lifting up women. A woman is now the leader of the Democratic Majority in the state house here and I think that will make a difference for women on the ballot here in November.
Krystal Ball: When you are sworn in, you will likely be the only black woman serving in the Kentucky State Legislature, does that give you a special responsibility?
Attica Scott: There is another black woman who will be on the ballot in November so I am hoping she wins! But if I am the only black woman sworn in in January that is going to give me a call to action that I have work to do to get other black women and Latina women running for office because I have no interest in being the only one. That’s not how we build power. That’s not how we create a collective voice for change.
Krystal Ball: Why do you think that diverse representation matters?
Attica Scott: It matters for those of us who have felt like we were on the margins we were on the outside. It means that you have people who are going to challenge institutions and systems before we make decisions. We’re going to think about what impact a decision is going to have on communities of color and that’s important. We have to have those voices at the local and state level who are making sure we are carrying with us the voices of people who are homeless or hungry or who are LGBTQ and being discriminated against. We have to carry those stories with us in order to affect change.
Krystal Ball: Anything else you’d like to add?
Attica Scott: I do want to say that it really was a strong group of women who got me through election day on Tuesday from the women who were my mentors and my guide to the women who donated to my campaign and knocked on doors and made phone calls. My campaign really was fueled by women.
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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Attica Scott