Four Women Politicians Get Real About Sexism, Diversity, and Running for Congress
What motivates a woman to run for office for the first time? Mostly, it's a desire for change. (Amen to that!)
Here, four first-time candidates talk about why they want to lead, what they would do about the anger and sexism in America today, and how this wild election will go down in history.
First: meet the round-table:
• Denise Gitsham, 39, Republican, running for the U.S. House in California’s 52nd District
• Colleen Deacon, 39, Democrat, running for the U.S. House in New York’s 24th District
• Representative Tammy Duckworth, 48 (D–Ill.), now running in her first U.S. Senate race
• Angie Craig, 44, Democrat, running for the U.S. House in Minnesota's 2nd District
Finish this sentence: The fact that Congress is only 20 percent female is...
Gitsham: Outrageous. Women deserve better representation than a measly 20 percent — not simply because we're women, but because we are uniquely qualified to lead and to bring a collaborative style of leadership to any arena we step into, including politics.
Deacon: Just plain wrong!
Rep. Duckworth: Embarrassing, especially as we advise other nations to prioritize gender balance in leadership.
Craig: A misrepresentation of who we are as a country. Women make up 51 percent of the population. Our elected bodies should reflect the diversity of our great nation. If more women were in Congress, more things would get done, and they’d get done on more a bipartisan basis.
How can we remedy the sexism in America today?
Gitsham: We can begin by searching within ourselves [to challenge] beliefs that prevent us from achieving all we’re capable of. Then we turn our focus outward, changing hearts and minds through our actions and words.
Deacon: We must elect more women to public office, teach our sons and our daughters respect for one another and in particular for women, and we must put in place more policies that ensure equality for women at all levels.
Rep. Duckworth: In the military I saw that many who were opposed to women serving in combat roles were the same folks who had served in all-male units. If we promote more women to leadership roles, we’ll be in a good position to reduce sexism.
Craig: Women who have risen to the top of their field need to support, develop, and advocate for other women. If I’m successful this November, I’ll become the first woman elected to represent Minnesota’s Second District. At each parade I marched in last summer, I encouraged 50 little girls to run for Congress, better yet, for President.
What do we do about the anger that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have tapped into in America today?
Gitsham: Trump and Sanders have tapped into a feeling that most Americans share and one that is reflected in Congress' absurdly low approval ratings: that our elected officials in Washington DC are so removed from the realities of our lives, so dysfunctional in their extreme partisanship, and so protected from any repercussions from their failures to adequately represent us, that we might as well just give up or fight. The Trump/Sanders camps choose to fight. Many others choose to quit. As leaders, it's our job to help turn that anger and frustration that lies at the root of it all into productive energy that encourages greater civic and political engagement and participation.
Deacon: We must bring more empathy to politics. The American people see a political system that works best for the largest corporations and the wealthiest people, not the hard working families of this country. We must work across the aisle to get things done for the people of this country, and focus on the issues that matter most to people, like jobs and the economy, infrastructure and education. What we have in Washington right now is not working, and that is one of the many reasons I’m running. I’ve heard a few times on this campaign trail that I don’t look like your typical Congressman. Well, I hope not! I don’t think we need more of the same.
Rep. Duckworth: I have always been moved by President Kennedy’s statement, delivered during the height of the Cold War, that ‘our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet; we all breathe the same air; we all cherish our children's futures; and we are all mortal.’ If the President of the United States can summon that kind of grace and understanding toward an enemy with nuclear weapons pointed at us, surely we can find it in ourselves to give our fellow Americans the same benefit. That’s the spirit I try to bring to work every day: While I have very real disagreements with my friends on the other side of the aisle, I also start with the presumption that they love this country as much as I do, and that we all want what’s best for our children.
Unfortunately, what I see from Donald Trump is an attempt to deprive other Americans of that basic humanity President Kennedy spoke of, and is an attempt to divide us rather than to find common ground. For someone who served this nation in uniform, I find it disheartening, and I will continue to speak out against Trump and his tactics. There are very real and understandable frustrations in this country right now because people feel like they’re being left behind by a rapidly changing economy. Every time I’m on the campaign trail, I hear about it, and I’m committed to finding real solutions to help people feel like opportunity and economic security are within reach. What I reject are attempts to pit one group of Americans against another, as Trump is doing. This country’s diversity is its strength, period.
Craig: We need to look at what’s causing this anger, anxiety, and frustration that so many Americans are feeling. An increasingly globalized economy has created unprecedented opportunities—but too many working class families have been left behind, unable to share in the benefits of our growing economy. College debt has skyrocketed. Minnesota, my state, actually ranks fifth highest in the nation for average level of student debt with a $31,579 price tag for a bachelor’s degree. At least 70 percent of graduates here have some form of loan debt. We can address that anger by diagnosing these problems in an honest way and developing common sense solutions to grow and strengthen the middle class.
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing women in 2016?
Gitsham: Respecting diversity of thought and political perspectives amongst ourselves and learning how to celebrate those differences for the balance they bring to our political process.
Deacon: Paul Ryan and his Republican Agenda.
Rep. Duckworth: Balancing responsibilities at work and at home.
Craig: Listening to Donald Trump.
What can Congress do to help women now?
Gitsham: Help us in areas where we cannot help ourselves, and get out of our way where we can.
Deacon: Pass equal-pay legislation, ensuring equal pay for equal work.
Rep. Duckworth: Pass universal paid maternity leave, and ensure equal pay for equal work.
Craig: Talk about issues that affect women and their families and move on legislation that is critical for women's access to equal opportunity in this country.
How will this election go down in history?
Gitsham: As the year that voters say "goodbye" to politics as usual.
Deacon: As the year that the United States elected the first woman as President.
Rep. Duckworth: As the year that millennials truly asserted their power on the national stage.
Craig: As the year women fundamentally changed the face of politics.
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Photo Credit: Getty Images