This blog entry comes from Vision 2020 Alabama Delegate Janet Beilstein who helped to coordinate a workshop to encourage women to run for office at Auburn University as part of her State Initiative. Want to share news about your State Initiative? Send your blog entries to Vision firstname.lastname@example.org.
On May 6, the first “Alabama Women Running and Winning” workshop was held at Auburn University. Three organizations cosponsored the event – Vision 2020, “Ready to Run,” and the Women’s Leadership Institute of Auburn University and 28 participants attended. Organizations represented by participants included Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, the Alabama Women’s Initiative, AAUW, and the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP), as well as Women of Will, the Leading Edge Institute, and the Political Institute for Women among others.
The workshop opened with Dr. Barbara Baker, Executive Director of the Auburn University Women’s Leadership Institute, offering welcoming remarks and segued into Vision 2020 Alabama Delegate Janet Beilstein showing Vision 2020’s anthem, explaining the five National Goals Vision 2020 has set for the year 2020 and presenting her Vision 2020 State Initiative, which involves getting more women elected to public office. Audrey Salgado, Alabama Representative to the 2012 Project, spoke about “Maneuvering the Process.” Kathy Kleeman, Senior Communications Officer at CAWP, spoke about the 2012 Ready to Run project, which trains women to run for public office and offers specific training programs for African-America, Hispanic and Asian-American candidates. Auburn Professor Robert French spoke about the importance of social media and elections.
After lunch, there was a panel discussion with representatives from the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties; none of the political parties offer any type of training for prospective candidates. In order to receive party funds, a candidate must first win the primary and hope that she receives funds that have not been previously allocated. Dr. Susan Parker, former Alabama Public Service Commissioner, discussed “Winning and Losing: The Ups and Downs of a Political Race,” and noted the importance of perseverance. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose but in order to win you have to run – possibly several times, she said.
During the discussion, a point was made that county executive committees of political parties often determine which candidate will run for which office in which district. In Alabama, there are very few women on county executive committees.
Another point that came up was certain barriers keep women from running for office. Redistricting and reapportionment often harm women in politics. Kathy Kleeman pointed out that women are often on the losing end when redistricting occurs. For example, in New Jersey, when redistricting took place, five of the seven incumbents who lost as a result were women. It’s important for women candidates and those supporting women candidates to attend the public hearings on reapportionment and redistricting in their counties to ensure that boundaries were no drawn in such a way that they disadvantaged women.
The day ended with participants breaking into discussion groups to plan the next steps in a call to action. Included in these next steps was a suggestion to put pressure on county executive committees to field more women candidates and support more women candidates. Another suggestion was to encourage women candidates to contact their county commissioner, the chairman of the party, and vetting committee to put pressure on them to get more qualified women candidates to run in districts.