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Local program joins a host of others working in increase the number of women in office 

Women rule!

click to enlarge Emerge Colorado’s 2019 summer bootcamp class at the UA Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 145 union hall in Grand Junction, Colorado. The 26 program attendees received three days of training from July 26 to 28. - COURTESY EMERGE COLORADO
  • Courtesy Emerge Colorado
  • Emerge Colorado’s 2019 summer bootcamp class at the UA Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 145 union hall in Grand Junction, Colorado. The 26 program attendees received three days of training from July 26 to 28.

Erin Hottenstein wants to emphasize one point in particular: Women aren’t losers.

Just look at the 2018 Congressional races: Female candidates won an outsized proportion of their primaries and went on to make historic gains in the general election. In fact, one reason women — who make up 51 percent of the population — hold office at a much lower rate than the guys is that they simply don’t run for office as often.

And Hottenstein thinks that’s a shame. Women, she believes (though studies don’t always agree), bring a needed viewpoint to politics, focus on different issues than men might, and often employ a more collaborative style and get more done. (See sidebar, p. 19)

That’s why she started Colorado 50-50, a Fort Collins-based nonpartisan, educational group, in 2017. The group helps to train and encourage women to run for office across the Front Range, sometimes working with a national group with the same goal, VoteRunLead.

While Hottenstein doesn’t take credit for it, she notes that when her group started, one out of the seven Fort Collins City Councilors was a woman. Now four are.

It’s a local story that follows a statewide trend: Colorado is one of only two states with a female majority in its state House (the other is Nevada). Nationwide, however, women make up roughly a third of state legislators, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Local marketing professional Karole Campbell hopes to replicate the changes in Fort Collins in Colorado Springs with Run, Girl, Run, a program of the group Pikes Peak Women. PPW launched locally in 2011 with a goal of getting local women more involved in politics, but this is its first program specifically aimed at attracting and training new female candidates in the area. 

“I’ve seen a lot of people who could make really great candidates, but they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Campbell says bluntly.

In other words, they don’t know some of the basics of the office they’re seeking, don’t know how to run a campaign, don’t know how to raise money, don’t understand the relevant issues, and don’t know the right people.

Against those odds, even a passionate woman with a talent for politics isn’t likely to succeed at the ballot box.

click to enlarge Colorado 50-50 hosted a VoteRunLead training for potential candidates in May. - ALISA MAY GEISER
  • Alisa May Geiser
  • Colorado 50-50 hosted a VoteRunLead training for potential candidates in May.

Across the state and nation, there are many organizations dedicated to getting women into politics. The website of the aforementioned VoteRunLead, which is nonpartisan, boasts, “We’ve trained thousands of women to run for office and will train 30,000 more by 2020.” Their alumnae include many women running for office right now and one that currently holds office who you’ve probably heard of: U.S. Rep Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota.

IGNITE has chapters across the country focused on training young women and girls to be tomorrow’s political leaders. 

There are also groups that offer training with a partisan tilt: Emily’s List is a major nationwide training program for pro-choice, Democratic women. Emerge Colorado, a local affiliate of a national organization, which has trained more than 300 Centennial State women, offers a six-month, 70-hour training program to Democrats. Fifty of their alums currently serve in elected office, including 15 at the state capitol. 

In a recent announcement, Emerge noted that 25 percent of its trainees this year were women of color and 75 percent plan to run for office in 2019 or 2020.

“Emerge Colorado [just] graduated 26 Democratic women from a three-day ‘summer bootcamp’ candidate training program focused on women running for office in rural districts,” the release noted. “This summer bootcamp is the final training Emerge Colorado will run in 2019, bringing the total number of women trained to 90 for the year.”

Back in January, Emerge Colorado Executive Director Michal Rosenoer told Colorado Public Radio News that 15 of the 16 state candidates they trained won in 2018, and added that the program has had to turn women away — a sharp contrast to years back when it was tough to recruit any qualified female candidates.

“Women tend to need to be invited or asked to run five to seven times,” she told CPR. “Whereas, I think, if you’re a man, you wake up and put your tie on in the morning and you think to yourself, ‘Hey, I kind of look like the president.’”

Republicans also have groups focused on training female candidates, notably the RightNOW Women PAC, whose website notes, “Currently, Republican women hold only 13 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and eight in the U.S. Senate. By comparison, Democratic women hold 89 seats in the House and 17 in the Senate.”

(Indeed, Republican groups have their work cut out for them — the number of Republican women in Congress shrank in 2018, even as the overall number of women serving hit a record high.)

While national groups can offer more in-depth programs, Campbell says there’s a big benefit for potential candidates who also work with a local group or program — a chance to meet a local mentor, to learn about local issues, and to pick up on the particulars of local roles and elections. 

click to enlarge womenchart02.jpg

Run, Girl, Run is a three-part program, parts of which are still in the formative stages.

The first step is a “speed dating” session on Oct. 1 at Library 21c. The event will include women who have held or run for office, and female appointed officials. Participants will get a chance to meet them, hear their stories and learn from their experiences. 

Campbell says she’s already heard that City Councilors Yolanda Avila and Jill Gaebler plan to attend, along with Green Mountain Falls Mayor Jane Newberry; Colorado Springs School District 11 board member Julie Ott; Academy School District 20 Board President Tracey Johnson; former Colorado Springs Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace; former Manitou Springs Mayor, state Insurance Commissioner, El Paso County Commissioner and state House Rep. Marcy Morrison; and former Springs City Councilors Jan Martin and Brandy Williams. 

Johnson says she’s excited to help other women. 

“I think this initiative is important because I think involvement is in general important, whether you’re male or female, but especially for those who may not have had the confidence to tip their toe into the whole putting yourself out there for the slings and arrows,” she says.

Johnson adds that she was greatly helped by talking to other women who had served on the school board, both before she ran, and after she lost her first run. That support gave her the confidence to run again and ultimately win. “They stayed engaged,” she says of her mentors. “... Listening to other school board members helped allay my fears that this would be more work than it would be worth.

Avila says that she’s attending in hopes of seeing more women on Springs City Council. “Fifty-one percent of the population is women and on City Council, there’s nine of us and only two are women,” she says. “That’s a lot of voices that aren’t being heard.” 

Campbell hopes to see 80-100 women participate in the speed-dating event, including women willing to run in the next election and those who might run several years in the future. Other women, she says, might not feel comfortable running for office but might find a good fit as a campaign manager or in other related work. 

The second Run, Girl, Run event will likely take place later in the fall and be set up more like a workshop. That event will feature presentations from people who work in the political field from polling to finances to consulting to employees of the city/county clerk’s offices. Representatives from political parties won’t be at the first event, but will likely attend the second.

The third event will be a more intensive training — Campbell is hoping to partner with VoteRunLead on an all-day workshop next year.

click to enlarge womenchart01.jpg

Jan Martin, who served as an at-large Colorado Springs City Councilor from 2007 to 2015, says the support and knowledge of other women who had held office was the key to her success.

“I had a lot of people who served in office in Colorado Springs before me who all helped me. And I always talk about the three “M”s: [former D-11 board member and Springs City Councilor] Mary Ellen [McNally], Mary Lou [Makepeace], and Marcy Morrison.” 

Martin says that, in her experience, women “tend to be fair and good problem-solvers.” After being term-limited from office, Martin sought out a like-minded woman to mentor, later helping Gaebler.

“Having someone else reach back and grab your hand leaves you with the sense that you need to do the same for someone else,” Martin says. “... One of the reasons I helped Jill is because we thought a lot alike.” 

Gaebler says that when she was first running, she watched Martin’s leadership, and it informed what type of leader she wanted to be. 

“She was quite a mentor for me,” Gaebler says, “[but] any time I would tell her [that], she would say, ‘No Jill, we’re colleagues.’” 

Gaebler says that in her experience, women benefit any organization. She thinks they have a tendency to listen more, be more thoughtful and care less about getting credit.

“I think, having now been in office six years, I see how women lead differently than men and I really have grown a deeper respect for how our government locally — and at other levels of government — would benefit by having more women,” she says.

Gaebler says she likes the idea of helping other women who want to run for office, and of generally forming a support system. Maybe it could even result in something like the first female “strong mayor” in the Springs, she muses. 

“I think,” she says, “women need to spend more time raising up other women.”

Are women better elected officials than men?

You may have heard some version of this claim: Women are “more effective,” “more bipartisan,” “tackle different issues” or are “harder working” office-holders than men. So is it true?

In an article about Congressional representatives, the fact-checking website Politifact summed it up this way in November 2018: “Studies show women sponsor more bills, secure more discretionary spending for their constituents, and under certain circumstances, reach across the aisle more. In the Senate, women have been more successful than men at passing bills. Studies also show that when women are elected, they work harder than their male colleagues.

“Other research, however, shows women are not more bipartisan than men and that women’s effectiveness relative to men’s effectiveness varies under different conditions.”

So let’s break this down:

• In an award-winning 2018 article in the journal Political Science Research and Methods, titled “Women’s Issues and Their Fates in the US Congress,” authors Dana Wittmer Wolfe, Colorado College associate professor of political science; Craig Volden, of the University of Virginia; and Alan E. Wiseman, of Vanderbilt University, argue female legislators take on “women’s issues” more than male legislators do. The researchers looked at 40 years of bills in the U.S. House of Representatives to reach their conclusions.

“Our analysis reveals that most (but not all) of the classically considered women’s issues are indeed raised at an enhanced rate by congresswomen,” the authors write.

“We then track the fate of those issues. While 4 percent of all bills become law, that rate drops to 2 percent for women’s issues and to only 1 percent for women’s issue bills sponsored by women themselves.”

Wolfe says there are clues as to why women don’t pass more such bills. Most important: Women may lack the power to push bills out of committee because they’re rarely chosen to serve as chairs.

• In October 2018, political scientists Jennifer L. Lawless of the University of Virginia and Sean M. Theriault of the University of Texas wrote a summary of their research for LegBranch.org looking at claims that women in Congress are more collaborative and effective than their male counterparts, and found “[i]t’s just not true.”

First, they looked at “fact-finding trips abroad as part of formal congressional delegations” taken by 9,732 Congressional members over 35 years (1977-2012). Women were just as likely to take partisan trips (only reps from a single party included) and no more likely to take bipartisan ones.

Second, researchers looked at the Lugar Center’s Bipartisan Index, dating back to 1993, which rates members on their tendency to sign on to a bill from a member of another party or get others from the opposing party to sign on to theirs. There was no difference between men and women.

Next, they analyzed nearly 14,000 procedural votes — “frequently used to obstruct legislation, stymie debate, or alter the normal amending process” — dating back to 1973. There was generally no difference between men and women, though Democratic women in the House were slightly less bipartisan.

Lastly, the article notes, “we investigated the number of amendments members of Congress offered and on which they demanded a vote.” This is usually an obstructive move, aimed at delaying a bill’s progress. The researchers looked at 4,488 roll-call vote amendments from 1993-2014 and found no difference between men and women.

• In August 2016, M. Daniele Paserman, a professor in the department of economics at Boston University, and Italian economist Stefano Gagliarducci, of the University of Rome Tor Vergata, completed a study of all 61,000-plus House bills from 1990 to 2010. They found that on average, women recruited more co-sponsors for their bills. The twist: Republican women recruited more Democratic co-sponsors than male Republicans, while Democratic women recruited fewer Republican co-sponsors.

“The very stark difference is that among Democrats, women are actually substantially less bipartisan [than men],” Paserman told Boston University’s The Brink. “The difference in bipartisanship was quite striking.”

Paserman says that women tend to lean left of their party. Thus a Republican woman’s views are closer to a Democrat’s, while a Democratic woman’s views are further from a Republican’s.

• In 2015, Quorum, a Washington, D.C.-based technology company, looked at a seven-year period and found that women senators gained more bipartisan co-sponsors and passed more bills. A similar effect was seen in the House, though women did not pass more bills.

• The 2011 study, “The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson Effect: Why Do Congresswomen Outperform Congressmen?” by Sarah F. Anzia, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University, and Christopher R. Berry, a professor at the University of Chicago, Harris School of Public Policy, showed that women were better at securing discretionary spending for their districts. They also sponsored and co-sponsored more bills their male counterparts.

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