How about a little XX to go with all that XY?

By Kathryn Firestone of Portland, Oregon. Kathryn is the executive director of Emerge Oregon.

First, a big wow! to the bus project folks who did it again with an amazing turnout, great energy, substantive topics and intermittently wacky (let’s see... a tattooed bus on your ass or a quick leap into the brutally cold Deschutes River. So many choices, so little time...) three-day conference.

Second, thanks to the guy across the room – you beat me to the punch. As I stood against the wall listening to the inimitable Henry Kramer and the amazing Rep. Val Hoyle (come on –she’s an alumna!) introduce the top-choice progressive ideas and their representative spokespeople, a trend, uh, emerged. Look! It’s a young white guy! Look! It’s another young white guy! And yes, there followed four more young white guys. As Val and Henry called for questions related to the proposed ideas, another guy across the room pointed out the obvious (to me, anyway) and spoke my mind (to paraphrase): “why is it that there are only young white guys standing at the front of the room?” Now, I don’t have anything against young, white guys – I call two of them son and I happen to like them both very much. But the longer I’m immersed in Emerge Oregon, the more disturbing the “trend” becomes.

Here in Oregon, only 26 of our 90 state legislators are women. We have no female members of Congress. We’ve only had one woman Governor. Two women serve in statewide office. And as a country – well, we’re woefully behind; as of the 2008 election, women make up just 17% of Congress. 84th in the world - that’s where we rank in terms of the number of women who hold elective office in these great United States. Behind places like China, Pakistan and Mexico.

Why does it matter? According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, having women in office widens the political debate to include a larger group of issues traditionally ignored by male policymakers. These include, but are not limited to, issues like paid family leave, flexible work options, after-school programs, health care for all kids, excellent childcare, fair wages, and strong environmental policy that protects our futures. The same research (pdf) suggests that states with higher averages of female representatives also had more women-friendly policies in place than other states. And according to Politico, the preliminary findings of a study done by researchers at Stanford and the University of Chicago, indicate that “on average, women in Congress introduce more bills, attract more co-sponsors, and bring home more money (emphasis added) for their districts than their male counterparts do”. Witness the front page article in the O about Washington State’s Senator Patty Murray.

And here on the ground for me, as I seek to put great female role models in front of the members of the Emerge class, I bump into it all the time. There simply aren’t enough of us on the XX side in leadership. According to The Center for American Women and Politics' new report, Poised to Run, (the most comprehensive study ever conducted on state legislators' routes to office - read the full report here (pdf)) there are numerous reasons why there aren’t more women in elected leadership roles – some of them very familiar (“my kids are too young” and “I can’t afford to serve” – because wages for electeds are often too low and women’s contribution to family income too important) and some of them are painfully of the gender-cultural variety. Women still (in 2010!) see themselves as the helpers (“I just want to work behind the scenes” or my personal favorite “I don’t know enough”. Have you looked at Congress lately?). One of the things the study also points out is that women need to be recruited to run – and here at Emerge – we knew that already. It’s part of our mission, in fact – to identify, recruit, train and inspire Democratic women to run for office and win.

Too many young white guys at the front of the room? You can help. Tell that amazing woman that you know that she should run. Help us identify the next generation of great Democratic women leaders – we’re already recruiting for next year’s class. And of course, you could make a donation to Emerge where we’re training them today. Check us out at EmergeOR.org.

Comments

  • Caitlin Baggott (unverified)
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    A. I totally agree. Let's get more women elected. B. Let me give one more high five to the 6 hard working, dedicated guys who work closely with women on important economic justice, social justice, education, community health, voter engagement and election reform policies that have a broad impact for men AND women all across Oregon. C. Support Emerge Oregon! Let's get more women like Val Hoyle at the front of the room.

  • LT (unverified)
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    "introduce the top-choice progressive ideas "

    OK, which one won the policy challenge? Which came in 2nd?

    Getting women into public office requires a lot of things. They must be well organized. They need support (not a party or a caucus telling them if they don't meet fundraising and poll numbers by a specific date they're not a serious campaign). An army of volunteers helps. These days, sometimes women run against women.

    They need to choose their targets---if a woman and man run against each other for school board, legislature, or higher office, they need to make the case they are the better candidate. "Vote for me because I am a woman" has never worked very well.

    They need to start early and campaign hard.

    If anyone can find a copy of the book Women Winning, it has some great stories in it about old time Oregon politics--incl, if memory serves, about Vera Katz when she first ran.

  • Kathryn (unverified)
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    Gaack and major mea culpa... to clarify - I LOVE the Bus! I love their energy and enthusiasm and the great work they've done and do to move Oregon forward. And it was - by all reports - a great conference with MANY woman participating and leading the way. Mission-driven-sometimes-tunnel-visioned-human that I am, I took a snapshot of the weekend to illustrate my broader point (yep, seriously guilty of "out of context"); we really need more women at the front of the room, at the table all the time. I in NO way intended to malign or diminish any of the great folks - male or female - who shared their work and time and commitment to making Oregon a better place. Mea culpa, mea culpa, and a "please forgive me" donation on the way...

  • Caitlin Baggott (unverified)
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    Voter Modernization got the 1st prize. (No surprise, that's our whole deal, right?) Farm to School and School Gardens grabbed 2nd.

    Everyone gets a fatty list of volunteers who want to help, and many also get a list of people who want to give money to their projects.

  • (Show?)

    "Vote for me because I am a woman" has never worked very well.

    Indeed. While I agree that it matters who is in the room when decisions are made, and that when any group is not represented, policy suffers, that's more of a general observation. When it comes down to a decision between or among candidates, I vote for the one whose experience, knowledge, skills and abilities, I believe, will inform decisions that make people's lives better. Experience as a woman matters to me, but only if a candidate can make a case that her experience will lead to better policy for all of us.

  • Admiral Naismith (unverified)
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    My experience at the local Democratic HQ and at committee meetings has been that, if you ask to speak to the one in charge, the odds are a woman will come over.

    Women are the backbone of the Democratic Party. Powerful professionals. Collegiate Alpha Females. Iron grannies. They work hard for us, and they're building leadership skills that will serve them well when they step up and run in their own right.

    Correction: ARE serving them well. For some time, one of the local women in charge was Val Hoyle.

  • Mr. Read (unverified)
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    Adding this for thought...

    I followed the links from Kari's post on the environment debate, and read the coverage at the Portland Observer. It's a well-written summary of the debate, but this line says an awful lot:

    "A crowd of over a thousand overwhelmingly white people gathered..."

    I'm relieved Obama is president, and Hillary is Secretary of State, and that Patty Murray is considered one of our most powerful U.S. Senators. This is a different world than the one I was born into. But I'm disappointed at how true that report in the Portland Observer is.

    As Ms. Firestone's column makes clear, we can still do better in Oregon. And her summary of why it matters is excellent -- we will get a better government.

  • House Women (unverified)
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    In addition to the 13 fabulous House Democratic women incumbents running for re-election this year (including appointed Reps. Margaret Doherty from Tigard and Val Hoyle from Eugene/Junction City), there are other incredible women now running for the Oregon House: Cheryl Myers in Clackamas/Estacada Susan Sokol Blosser in McMinnville Lynn Howe in Medford Katie Riley in Hillsboro Sara Byers in Roseburg/Cottage Grove Sandy Webb in Sherwood/Wilsonville * Claudia Kyle in Salem.

    Donate. Canvass. Phonebank.

  • Joelle Davis (unverified)
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    I'm proud to be an Emerge graduate, and even prouder to be running for HD-37 (Tualatin/West Linn) with a slate of so many terrific Democratic women. Learn more about my campaign at .

  • Joelle Davis (unverified)
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    Comment box didn't recognize my html... website is www.davisfororegon.com.

  • Kurt Hagadakis (unverified)
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    IMHO, the bus project is definitely getting it right. We need more like 'em.

    Still would like to hear this discussed. Maybe 4th times the charm...

    Posted by: Zarathustra | Feb 1, 2010 9:22:05 AM

    This question seemed interesting when it was asked on your similar post, three weeks ago, and it never got a response, so I'm reposting it now (apologies to Rudy V).

    The Brits have a proposal that is getting brought up more seriously all the time, of enforcing demographic pro rata among candidates, starting with women. I'm curious to hear American reactions to that. Seems like this is more "American", but the proposed approach does get 'er done!

    I think he's saying that some councils are requiring that whatever the percentage of woman voters is in the district, that the same percentage of candidates must be women. (Correct me if I'm wrong). I find this interesting because it seems to be a step towards a true non-representative, Athenean style democracy. Ultimately one could imagine a "bot" voting each person's interest. The in-between stage would be enforcing the districts' demographics on the candidates.

  • Mike Schaufler (unverified)
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    Kathryn, don't forget two women on the Oregon Supreme Court and three women on the Oregon Court of Appeals.

    Mike Schaufler

  • Cafe Today (unverified)
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    Why mention that the guys were white? Emerge is about electing women, right? Not about electing non-white people.

  • Julie Fahey (unverified)
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    Kurt - you might be interested in this paper, which talks about the different types of quota systems that countries have used to "fast track" gender equality. A full-on, "reserved seat" approach would never fly in the US, in my opinion (nor should it, as I'm not sure it's appropriate for a mature democracy), since most of us are reasonably post-identity politics and want to vote for the best candidate, not the XX candidate. But, the paper shows that voluntary, party-based quotas are inconsistent in terms of how effective they actually are.

    Not sure what the "right" answer is for the US -- everyone seems to want more women in office, but a "top down" quota approach would turn most people off. So, we have organizations like Emerge and Emily's List trying to fix the problem from the "bottom up."

    Random other thought: fivethirtyeight did an interesting piece a few months ago about the difference between the % of women in left-of-center parties vs. in right-of-center parties in different countries in the world. The US had the biggest disparity of the countries looked at (i.e., the gap between the % of Republican women and the % Democratic women was larger than for any other country).

  • Kathryn (unverified)
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    I mentioned that the guys were white because we consider diversity to be a high priority at Emerge. Of our current 21 member class nearly a third are women of color and a full third come from outside the Ptld/metro area. As our state demographics change (and they are changing/have changed), diversity matters when you're talking about "representative democracy". As an example, of our 90 legislators, there are only 4 people of color, so we have a ways to go. We think it's important that we "build the bench" to that end.

    And speaking of a different bench - thanks for the reminder Rep. Schaufler - we do indeed have women serving us very well at the judicial level.

  • Eric Zimmerman (unverified)
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    Kathryn, glad to see your article here. I've been following Emerge Oregon's work from Iraq and glad to see you pop up every now and then. Also, thanks for the links you included in the post. All great points.

  • Kathryn (unverified)
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    Eric - So good to hear from you and thanks! You be careful out there, eh? K

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)
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    I wish more women would study electoral systems -- world-wide, winner-take-all systems reliably diminish representation of women. The leading countries in social democracy and in representation of women in office all use proportional representation systems. It doesn't have to be a parliamentary system (see, e.g., England and the US both use winner-take-all systems but they have a parliament and we don't; you can have proportional elections to the legislative bodies and an instant-runoff-voting election to the executive offices).

    Until women focus on the rules by which candidates are selected and then one is elected, they will continue to lag woefully to the detriment of all.

  • Jim (unverified)
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    FYI 7 of the Bus's 14 staffers are ladies, so, lets be nice to our progressive pals mmk? http://busproject.org/about/people/

    Now, granted, there might be something to be said about large popular assemblies and how loud and large folks (lets face it, dudes) fair better in these types of situations. And perhaps we should reconsider how we approach these types of presentations and assemblies in a nontraditional manner that empowers all types, even the quieter ones.

    But I wouldn't heap this on the poor ol'Bus Project. Especially, given, they didn't pick the presenters, the presenters did...

  • Kurt Hagadakis (unverified)
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    Thanks for the excellent link, Julie! So, you want more women in office AND to treat the democracy as mature? Hmmmm...that last item may be a bridge to far, imho. Admire the attitude, though.

    Agree with all your specific guesses about what would fly. You got the gist of my point. If you're want to fast track the process, it's a thought...

  • (Show?)

    I actually wrote my thesis about female candidates for state legislature, and their chances of winning relative to male candidates. Oregon was unsurprisingly one of my sample states. Over the past 10 years, female candidates for the state legislature have been equally successful as male candidates. In primary elections (for both parties), they have actually been slightly more successful than male candidates, though the difference is not statistically significant. So when women run, they are as likely to win as male candidates, it's just a matter of getting women to run for office more often. Which is why programs like Emerge Oregon are so valuable.

  • val (unverified)
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    So when women run, they are as likely to win as male candidates, it's just a matter of getting women to run for office more often. Which is why programs like Emerge Oregon are so valuable.

    Well said Nick.

  • Kurt Hagadakis (unverified)
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    Following on with the "correlation doesn't mean cause and effect, but it sure can predict the outcome" theory, my favorite solution to population control is to see that every woman has at least the minimum education necessary to function autonomously in her society. Based on Nick's data, making sure that females don't exhibit higher secondary school drop-out rates, for example, could be an important factor in making sure that they get an opportunity to run.

    That's even more basic than improving education or finding new funding sources. There's no excuse for women not getting the same education that men do, regardless of its quality. Bottom line, there's only one reason it happens. It is still socially acceptable to do so. It is arguably the most counter-productive, outdated, barbaric notion that still holds sway over societies. Slavery, child labor, arranged marriages, ritual mutilation, genocide...all were practiced by primitive peoples and have become unacceptable or at least highly suspect. The only practice of that ilk that still survives is the notion that women don't have to participate fully in society, they can stay at home and be mothers.

    It's disappointing that in the US not being as regressive as one can imagine is called progressive. It is incredible that religions that preach that the big sky dude decrees it should be so are given tax breaks, while education begs the public for support.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    So is this a post about wanting more women elected to statewide office? Or is it about more of the RIGHT type of women as defined by Progressives?

    Not picking a fight (Ok, yes I probably am)really want to know the purpose of the post.

    <h2>After all Sarah Palin is a woman, that has to create some problems for the feminist/progressive cause.</h2>
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