Women Losing Ground in Legislature and statewide office
NWPC Op-Ed Published in The Seattle Times in January, 2013
The 2012 election was a mixed bag of news for women candidates and women voters. While women scored major victories at the national level, we lost ground in Washington state.
This election was poised to be another Year of the Woman. Redistricting opened up several new competitive seats and high voter turnout created a favorable election environment for women to run and win.
We came close - 65 women ran for state legislative seats and 37 won. But it wasn't enough to overcome 12 women retirements. Washington once led the nation with just over 40 percent of our Legislature composed of women. Today, we've slid to just 32 percent, and in January that number will slide down even further to 30 percent.
In 1994, the first Year of the Woman, Washington led with a record number of women in statewide office. Almost 20 years later, Secretary of State Kim Wyman will be the sole statewide woman officeholder, not including the Supreme Court.
If any year demonstrated the importance of having a pipeline of up-and-coming women leaders ready to run for office, this was it.
Washington has an incredible pool of talented women leaders. This January, Washington will be one of only three states to send two women to the U.S. Senate. From the ranks of chief executive officers and executive directors to heads of neighborhood groups and PTAs, there is no shortage of skilled women actively working to improve our state's business climate, education system and communities.
But few of them choose to run for office.
When asked why, women have many (good) reasons: their kids are too young or aging parents are sick; they are focusing on their career and building up their résumé; or they say they can't stomach negative campaigning and worry about their family's privacy.
But the No. 1 reason women don't run for office is nobody asked them.
That's the big difference between men and women who choose to run for office. Men rarely wait for someone to ask. Women typically must be asked, sometimes repeatedly, while they wait for the right time.
The shortage of women in public office means a shortage of diverse, influential voices in the rooms where public policies are decided. Both the agenda and the process are shaped by who has a seat at the table.
How can Washington re-establish its place as a national leader in electing women to public office? It starts with each of us asking a woman to run, and letting her know she won't have to figure out how to do it on her own.
Organizations such as the National Women's Political Caucus are dedicated to identifying and training women who are interested in running for office. Annual campaign training provides nuts-and-bolts information as well as networking opportunities with other elected women and political experts.
In January, women are invited to join the National Women's Political Caucus at "Running for Office: What You Need to Know Now," an opportunity for women to learn about the process and resources available to help them. More information is available at www.wpcnet.org.
Will you ask a woman to run today?
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