Comstock's magazine 0319 - March 2019 - Page 90

n WOMEN IN POLITICS S oon after beginning her career in California poli- tics, Cassandra Walker-Pye issued a warning for her fellow Republicans: The GOP needed to be doing more to elect women into office, stat. That was in 1991. More than 25 years later, the veteran GOP consultant and former top aide to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is still repeating the same refrain. In fact, the landscape for women in her party has gotten even worse — and Pye’s frustration has only increased. “I’ve been saying this so long I want to cry,” Pye, who now heads the Sacramento-based 3.14 Communications, says. “Either we’re serious or we’re not, because it’s really not that difficult.” The 2018 midterm elections sent a record number of wom- en to office, including in California, where the share of wom- en serving in both the state Legislature and the congressional delegation grew. The share of female legislators rose from 25 percent to 30 percent, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Eighteen women currently serve in the U.S. House. But gains for gender parity during the “Year of the Wom- an” were largely made on the left. The gulf was especially pro- nounced in the Golden State. Just five Republican women serve in the entire state Legislature, marking a 10-year-low, accord- ing to data collected by the Center for American Women and Politics. Losses in the federal election mean none of the state’s 53 congressional seats are held by GOP women. The troubling backslide has led stakeholders to reassess efforts to reverse the trend — and fast. Key party leaders say recruiting more women is good for policy and, potentially, helping the GOP stem losses in the increasingly Democratic state. But balancing the scales will require addressing bigger, structural issues with how the party recruits and supports can- didates, as well as an infusion of cash for female hopefuls. For some, the wait has been too long. “It’s not rocket science,” Pye says. “You’ve got to be proac- tive and you’ve got to be intentional and you’ve got to really be committed.” WHY IT MATTERS The most frequently cited rationale for encouraging more fe- male candidates to run for office is simple: Women make up 50 percent of the population, and our elected bodies should reflect that. But recruiting more women can have political and electoral benefits. Many argue that an increasingly di- verse candidate pool is key for winning over voters, especially younger ones, as the country’s population shifts. Young Demo- cratic women, fueled by anger over the policies and statements of President Donald Trump, secured key victories in 2018. In some cases, hunger for fresh leadership and more diverse rep- resentation led to female candidates ousting longtime male 92 | March 2019 incumbents. Voter turnout and excitement in many of those races surged on the left. Beyond the impact at the polls, electing more women can have potential policy implications too. “Every study I’ve seen indicates that the more perspectives you bring to the table, the better the policy outcomes,” Levinson says. “What it boils down to is when you have gender diversity at the decision- making level, you get better policy decisions. Men and women experience the world in different ways.” Advocates and operatives say women with backgrounds in business have an especially valuable perspective and, as a result, make particularly strong candidates and officeholders. “The skill set you bring to the table as a business owner, ev- erything from balancing the books to emotional intelligence, to human resources, to knowing how to compromise and nego- tiate, all of these are skills you can use in appointed and elected office,” Pye says. Indeed, some of the most promising GOP candidates of the last cycle, including Young Kim in Southern California, had ex- perience running a company or working in the financial sector. Kim, a former state legislator, emphasized her perspective as a businesswoman on the campaign trail, as she called for lower taxes. But despite distancing herself from divisive statements made by Trump, Kim lost by a narrow margin in 2018 — a year that delivered big wins for Democrats across the board. Yet GOP leaders say her candidacy serves as an example for the party’s path forward. Melinda Avey, from Fair Oaks, ran for state Assembly in 2018 after becoming frustrated by what she saw as a worsening climate for small businesses like hers. “I understand the problems that small business has, and it’s getting worse,” Avey says. “One day I said, ‘You know what? I’ve had it.’ And I decided to throw my hat in the ring.” Her background building a medical transcription service from the ground up was a key part of her pitch to voters as she chal- lenged Democrat Ken Cooley for the 8th Assembly District. While she didn’t win (Democrats have a voter registration advantage in the seat), she says she found support from her local party and fellow Republicans encouraging, and that her bid inspired her granddaughters and their friends to consider entering politics. While business experience can certainly help with voters, experts are quick to point out that voter appetites range widely across California’s politically and geographically diverse land- scape. A candidate like Sen. Shannon Grove, a conservative who was first elected to California’s 16th District as part of the Tea Party wave of 2010, might win easily. In other places, like the deep-blue Bay Area or in purple suburbs, the party might need to identify candidates who are more moderate or connect with a district’s voters in other ways. That’s something Kim tried to hit home during her cam- paign too. She emphasized her experience as a Korean immi-