Rolling Stone, 9/5/17 - Meet the Women Inspired to Run for Office After the 2016 Election
By Alexis Sottile
In late June, nearly eight months after her head-turning loss to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton tweeted some of the more hopeful news to emerge for progressives in 2017: EMILY's List, the best known and longest running political organization dedicated to electing Democratic women, had seen an astounding 15,000 women reach out to them about running for office since Election Day, with another 7,000 offering to assist those who do run. In the following month, another 1,000 potential women candidates came forward.
"We've been preparing for this moment for three decades," the group's president, Stephanie Schriock, tells Rolling Stone. "It's unprecedented."
Nearly a century after U.S. women won the right to vote, there's been only one woman on a major-party ticket for the presidency, and two for vice president. A paltry 19 percent of the House and 21 percent of the Senate is currently female. And nearly half of U.S. states, including the Democratic strongholds of New York and California, have never had a female governor. Political representation among women of color, who were denied access to the polls for years after the 19th Amendment was ratified, has been even more dismal.
This is especially striking given that for more than 50 years, a steadily growing majority of U.S. voters have been women, both by number and by proportion. (By 2016, women voters outnumbered male voters by 10 million.) Women are not only more likely to show up to the polls – they're more likely to register to vote in the first place. And Democrats looking to flip the balance of state legislatures and Congress in the upcoming cycles might do well to remember that, thanks to the voting habits of women of color, women on the whole tend to vote more Democratic than men.
Since the election, women across the country and the political spectrum have not only been volunteering their names, but also attending boot camps and training seminars aimed at getting them ready to run. In addition to those training with EMILY's List, hundreds more are getting support from newer groups such as Emerge America, She Should Run, and Ready to Run.
Before announcing her candidacy for Pennsylvania's House District 6, a suburban and rural swath of land outside Philadelphia, Democrat Chrissy Houlahan attended a day-long training hosted by Ready to Run, which is dedicated to electing women on both the left and the right to all levels of office.
On a bright, sunny day this past winter at Philadelphia University, Houlahan and about 150 other women gathered in a large room with circular tables, outfitted with name tags, listening to a panel of women from both sides of the aisle talk about their campaign experiences and being tutored in media skills.
"I never expected to be running for office in any form," says Houlahan, a 50-year-old Air Force veteran. "I felt like I was doing my part in terms of serving my country, and I always felt as though my elected officials were doing their part as well. But I no longer felt that was the case after this election."
Houlahan brought along her mother, Suzy Jampoler, a 71-year-old Navy wife whose longtime devotion to the League of Women Voters had served as an early inspiration to serve others. "I had a real sense of distress that we were in trouble as a nation," says Houlahan, "and that it was the right thing to do to rush into what I perceive as a threat to our country, instead of running away from it."
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to the House, has been partnering with groups like Women Lead and EMILY's List to zero in on female candidates (as well as veterans, small business owners and first-time politicians) for the upcoming cycle. At a DCCC boot camp training held in Washington this past April, a full half of the attendees were women.
Clinton's own post-election foundation, Onward Together, launched this past May with a mandate to raise funds for four chosen orgs, one of them Emerge America, a 12-year-old nonprofit with state-specific programs in 22 states that works to elect women Democrats at all levels.
Clinton on June 1st. John Lamparski/Getty
Jennifer Carroll Foy, a 35-year-old public defender who was admitted to the Virginia Military Institute during one of the first years women were legally allowed to attend the school, did an Emerge training for her run for Virginia state legislature this fall. "There are Republicans in a lot of these [local] offices who are taking hold of Trumpism, which is very dangerous, so we need a counterbalance to that," she says. "We need progressive Democrats to go to the General Assembly to ensure that people's civil rights are not trampled upon, to make it known that Virginia is not a place for intolerance and bigotry and discrimination."
After going through what she describes as "the stages of grief" after Election Day, she says, "I thought to myself, if not me, then who? And if not now, then when?"
Emerge's political director, A'Shanti Gholar, says this is a common refrain among the women coming forward in the wake of the election. "A lot of people are calling all these women running for office the 'Trump Effect.' I disagree with that. I call it the 'Hillary effect,'" says Gholar. "We even saw when she was running in the last cycle that so many of the women who did our program said that they were inspired by her. … After she lost, women were saying, 'OK, if not Hillary, then who? It has to be me.'"
Gholar notes that running women in elections is a winning strategy. "Last cycle, even though Secretary Clinton didn't break that highest glass ceiling … 214 of our women were on the ballot, and 70 percent of those women won their races. So the fact is, when women do run for office, they win," she says. "We just need more women running at equal rates as men."
Nina Turner, the former Ohio state senator who now leads Bernie Sanders' group Our Revolution, notes that there's another reason it's important for women to run. "Look at the example of Shirley Chisholm," Turner tells Rolling Stone, referencing the trailblazing politician; Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to Congress, in 1968, and the first African-American candidate to make a major party bid for the presidency, in 1972. "Her battle cry of 'unbought and unbossed' speaks to my soul every day," says Turner.
"Every time a woman runs, she is leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for the next generation," she says. "I don't think any woman should be discouraged [by Clinton's loss]. The impact that you have on the next woman is extraordinary."
One of the biggest successes notched by the Dems this fall was another historic win: the election in Nevada of Catherine Cortez-Masto to become the first Latina senator in U.S. history.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto being sworn in on January 3rd. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/ZUMA
"One of my biggest motivations as a candidate was giving women and minorities a voice in government by getting a seat at the table," says Cortez-Masto, who, in her new role as chair of the Women's Senate Network is recruiting more women to serve by her side.
Though approximately 18 percent of the U.S. population is women of color, they comprise just 7 percent of Congress, and many other glass ceilings remain; for instance, there has never yet been an African-American woman elected governor of a U.S. state. And if elected, Deb Haaland, currently running for a House seat in a district including Albuquerque, New Mexico, would be the first ever Native American Congresswoman. But many women's groups are focused on just such gains. Groups like ROSA PAC (focused on electing Democratic women of color), PODER PAC (Democrat Latinas), Asian American Action Fund (Asian Americans) and Higher Heights for America (African-American women) came together in July to celebrate the "Magnificent 10" women of color who were newly elected to Congress in 2016. Among those being feted was Kamala Harris, the rising star junior senator from California, who is now receiving much the same presidential hopeful buzz that Barack Obama received on his first election to the Senate in 2004.
"It has to take compassion and passion," says Mai Khanh Tran, a 52-year-old pediatrician in California's Orange County, of her effort to unseat a 20-year Republican incumbent in the state's 39th congressional district.
"I'm going to challenge him with heart and steel," she says of her well-heeled opponent, Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ed Royce. "And I think it's going to take a little pediatrician to do it."
Tran says that the morning after the election, one of the first patients she saw was a child with a brain tumor whose family was able to get health care for their daughter only through an Affordable Care Act subsidy. "We looked at each other, and we cried. The whole office cried. My nurses were crying. Because we know, my goodness, lives are going to be affected, real lives, of real people," she says. Tran, who brought medical aid to the Philippines in the wake of 2013's Typhoon Haiyan and who specializes in the treatment of leprosy worldwide, says this sorrow soon turned to resolve. "There was so much weeping," she says. "And then after the weeping, I said, 'We've got to start fighting.'"
Emma Collum, the national field director behind January's historic Women's March, is running too, for a state legislature seat in the infamous swing state of Florida.
Almost immediately after the march, she began bringing women from Ruth's List, a Florida-centric spin-off of EMILY's List, to meetings of women who'd been energized by the protest in D.C. She knew running for office would be a next step for many of the millions of women who attended the marches nationwide – likely the biggest one-day protest in U.S. history.
"What they thought they were doing was silencing women," says Collum of the anti-woman rhetoric against Clinton during the campaign season. "Instead what they did was wake a sleeping giant."