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February 16, 2020

Pipeline effort for candidates: Women, it’s time to run for public office

Kaitlyn Newman began by asking the women in the audience at “Vote. Run. Lead. 100 Years of Women in Politics,” held Feb. 14 at the American Bar Association Midyear Meeting in Austin, Texas, if any of them had considered running for office or had run. A smattering of hands went up.

Then she asked everyone in the audience if they knew a woman they thought should run for office. Every hand went up.

Kaitlyn Newman speaks at  the Midyear Meeting program “Vote. Run. Lead. 100 Years of Women in Politics.”

Kaitlyn Newman speaks at the Midyear Meeting program “Vote. Run. Lead. 100 Years of Women in Politics.”

Newman is donor relations and partnerships manager at She Should Run, a nonpartisan, nonprofit working to dramatically increase the number of women considering a run for office. The organization, based in Washington, D.C., seeks to identify and tackle barriers to elected leadership.

“We’re really invested in mobilizing women from all walks of life who are perhaps at the beginning of their political career,” she said. “That looks like” women leading homes, workplaces, “lawyer at your firms” and “you, if you’re a woman in this room.”

“We know that when women actually run for office, they’re as likely to win as men. It’s that they don’t run,” Newman said.

She noted that 77% of those who filed to run for Congress in the 2018 midterm elections were men, “which means this is a talent pool crisis.”

There are more than 500,000 elected offices across the United States. By 2030, She Should Run aims to see 250,000 women running for local, state and national offices.

“For every 1 woman who makes it to the ballot, we need 8 women to consider the possibility,” Newman said, which means mobilizing 2 million women.

In 2019, women held just 23.7% seats for federal office, 29% for state level and 22% of mayoral seats in cities of more than 30,000. “We’re making progress,” she said, but there is much work to be done.

Newman said She Should Run, which is working with about 18,000 women in their communities, has found that the key barriers to the lack of women in elective offices are:

  • Women (particularly women of color) are not being recruited to run for office, and there is a disparity in recruiting between the Democratic (which puts up more women candidates) and Republican (which puts up fewer women candidates) parties;
  • Lack of “material and emotional support” to sustain a candidacy.

The journey to candidacy starts 5-10 years before the run, she said. That’s when the potential candidate learns such things as that every contact in their cell phone is a potential donor.

“The work of organizations like She Should Run is really about shifting our collective and your personal imaginations around what political leadership looks like,” she said.

Newman said she herself had been through the organization’s training and was still considering a run for office, although mulling the idea of starting as a campaign manager first.

Collective action is important, she said, and offered three calls to action to the assembled women:

  • Consider a run for office, and explore the resources at She Should Run;
  • Even if you’re not the potential candidate, everyone (especially men) has a role to play, including financially, organizationally and socially;
  • Ask the women in your life to run for office, and show up for them.

Newman was joined on the panel by moderator Sharon Sayles-Belton, former mayor of Minneapolis; Judge Eva Guzman of the Supreme Court of Texas; and Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto, director of civic engagement at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Vote. Run. Lead. 100 Years of Women in Politics,” part of the Present and Powerful Speaker Series, was sponsored by the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division and the Law Practice Division.