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    Planning to Run for Office? If You’re a Woman, Take Note

    leslieRecent events in the Democratic Primaries bring to light, again, the issues faced by female candidates. There is not enough room in this column to go through the kind of loaded language that women face. Women have to walk a fine line when running for any office, and running for President magnifies the challenges many times over. I turned to Christine Pelosi, Chair of the California Democratic Party’s Women’s Caucus and a member of the Democratic National Committee, to offer her insights regarding women politicians.

    Pelosi, the daughter of Congress-woman Nancy Pelosi, is accomplished in her own right. She is an author of books on running for office, holds candidate trainings (boot camps), and has otherwise written and spoken extensively on the issues women face when running for office–certainly similar to what LGBT candidates face as well. As we follow the Democratic Primary, it seemed like the time to address what women should consider in deciding to run for office. Here is some of the advice she offers to prospective candidates:


    Consult your family. Your reputation is not individual; your partner, spouse, children, parents, and close friends will also lose their privacy, possibly against their wishes and regardless of your best-laid plans to protect them. Your family and friends must live with you whether you win or lose. All of this must factor into your decision. Explain your call to service, the nature of your mission, and their roles in any public efforts. Before you embark on this family commitment, reach a family decision.

    You can dedicate sixteen-hour days to your service mission only if your loved ones support you and are ready to face the cameras themselves. Your loved ones may not support your desire to devote your time, energy, and resources to public service because they will not see you very often during the campaign, which may last a year or two. They may or may not offer you support and campaign with you. Teenagers especially have their own lives and are more likely to act out than grow up on camera. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin will not be the last vice-presidential nominee with an unwed pregnant teenage daughter, because life happens.

    Can you afford the childcare necessary to nurture your child at home or to bring your child with you on the road and hire a sitter to entertain her while you campaign? These questions will be aimed at women, but with changing gender roles and family circles, will be asked of men as well. Male parents of small children are starting to be asked the same questions about balancing family life in a dual-income household with small children. Gay families are breaking new ground in this conversation: In 2011 Colorado representative Jared Polis, the first openly gay parent in Congress, took a brief paternity leave to be with his son, and San Francisco supervisor Bevan Dufty became the first openly gay politician to make a television ad with his child, a small girl videotaped riding the bus with dad.

    A Brown University study addressed the issue of women candidates with a report that asked, “Why Don’t Women Run for Office?” The researchers found that women are less likely than men to have received the suggestion to run for office from party and elected officials, political activists, or family and friends; yet when women receive external support from formal and informal political and nonpolitical sources, they are twice as likely to run.


    Ellen Malcolm, founder of EMILY’s List, a national network of 100,000 members who recruit, train, and support Democratic pro-choice women candidates, says the Brown study shows that people who care about public service should encourage others to run. The theory behind EMILY’s List–EMILY stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast–is that early networking and institutional support helps the campaign ‘dough’ rise. Malcolm says establishing a pipeline for women to run is essential because “progress doesn’t happen in a moment, but in battle after battle for our values.” Malcolm’s message to potential candidates: “Consider yourself asked.”

    This sentiment is echoed by Florida congressional candidate Annette Tadeo, now with the Women’s Campaign Fund, who explained during our joint presentation to the Florida Young Democrats, “Women are not asked to run. A woman with a Ph.D. in education won’t run for School Board because she will think she is not qualified, but a man without that degree or kids in the school system will run.”

    As we contemplate the Presidential Election of 2016, please don’t forget how historic, how groundbreaking, and how difficult it still is for a woman to run for office, never mind getting elected President. Having our first female President, who, in fact, has a history of progressive politics at the national level, is truly the “revolutionary” candidate. Let’s not fall into the trap of subtle attacks based on gender bias, or forgetting what it means to finally have a qualified female candidate for President. I am ready for her!

    Leslie R. Katz is a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was the co-author of the City’s Equal Benefits Ordinance, has served on the SF Democratic County Central Committee (as Chair, and as a general member), and serves on the California Democratic Party’s Executive Board. She is an attorney with a government law, policy and strategy practice, with a focus on emerging technologies.