Down the Ballot – Women Fight for Change
With so much excitement focused on the presidential election, there is some concern that voters will neglect to pull the lever for the other candidates running for office. Hopefully not, as more women have entered into the political fray, successfully gotten into the pipeline, and may now be poised for victory.
Circumstances have moved forward since 1985 when Barbara Mikulski became the first woman, in her own right, to make it into the Senate. As Ramona Oliver of Emily’s List suggested to me, “Literally, adding her to the Senate saved millions of women’s lives.” Oliver was referencing Mikulski’s impact on the protocol that called for the majority of federally funded medical research to be done on men.
Mikulski fought to make sure women were included in clinical trials. As Dean of Senate women, she has led her colleagues in dramatically increasing funds for women’s health research, including a 700% increase for breast cancer research since 1990.
It goes without saying that Hillary Clinton’s historic run for the White House had a tremendous impact. Now, women are prepared to get into the driver’s seat and contribute a fresh take on a wide array of matters from equal pay and reproductive rights, to the economy and international affairs. Kim Gandy, President of Now, said, “The increased focus on women voters throughout the long primary season inspired even more female candidates and engaged more women voters and volunteers. The result will not only be more women’s voices in Congress, but also an increased focus on women’s rights issues.
Here are some races to watch:
Christine Jennings – 13th Congressional District, Florida
In a rematch of one of the closest (369 votes) and most costly Congressional races of 2006, Jennings is up against Vern Buchanan (ranked by Congress.org as number 407 out of 435 for representative effectiveness). Jennings was against the war in Iraq from its inception. She has a background in banking that appeals to both Independents and Republicans. She began her work life as a bank teller after graduating from high school, and worked her way up to the position of founder and President of the Sarasota Bank.
Jeanne Shaheen – Senate, New Hampshire
In 1996, Shaheen was the first woman elected as Governor of New Hampshire. She is locked in a high profile race with incumbent John Sununu, who – like John McCain – voted with Bush 90% of the time. If elected, she will be the state’s first female Senator. A three-term Governor, she has shown a strong commitment to women’s issues and working families. This was evidenced when she signed into law a woman’s right to choose by repealing legislation that had criminalized abortion. She has also worked to expand health care coverage to include birth control.
Sam Bennett – 15th Congressional District, Pennsylvania
Bennett, who comes from a background of grassroots activism, is going after incumbent Charlie Dent. When I spoke to Bennett on Election Eve, she told me she was “passionate about health care reform and is a progressive, pro-choice candidate.” She has accused her opponent of running a “wall-to-wall smear campaign” but feels that the “calculus looks solid.” There is still approximately a 30% demographic of undecided voters. Her campaign has knocked on 25,000 doors, and with 47,000 more Democrats than Republicans in her district, there is a good chance that she may become the second Congresswoman elected in Pennsylvania. Bennett has tied in with the Obama campaign using the slogan, “Don’t stop at the top!”
There have been numerous actions and non-partisan groups working to enfranchise women. Lifetime’s Every Woman Counts, launched in 1992, has used its multiplatform campaign to encourage women to become a part of the electoral process as both voters and candidates. Women’s Voices. Womens Vote. has endeavored to engage and encourage the participation of unmarried women. In 2004, a staggering 20 million single women did not participate in choosing our country’s leaders. With a pro-active website that gives women tools to become involved, they are reaching out to change the numbers. Barbra Streisand has recorded a PSA to discuss why women’s voices are so vital…and why they can make the difference.