female candidates win primaries (old news? maybe)

so as most of you know, some of what i do at WLP is bloggidybloggidyblog. for example, the swedish feminism post incorporated the international parental leave article that i did for them. today i am going to include one about female candidates winning primaries! of course its old news NOW, but when we posted, it wasn’t 🙂 so for those of you who didn’t have time to really digest the headlines back then, let me recap for you:

High-Profile Victories for Female Candidates Begs the Question – Are We Any Closer to Equal Representation?

NPR termed it a “Super Tuesday For Women. The Washington Post called it “a year of the women,” but noted “the general election in the fall will be the real test of whether the ‘year of the woman’ label is fitting.” After high-profile primaries resulted in numerous victorious female candidates across the country, Samantha Bee of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart humorously explains, “Men broke the country and now you need the ladies to come in and make it all better.” According to Bee, America was “scared… [and] cried for its Mommy” to which the women replied, “No, its fine honey, we’ll do it. You go back to sleep.”

So what did happen last Tuesday night? Here’s the scoop:

Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AK) won in a runoff against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Bill Clinton visited the state to endorse her, she declared her independence from unions and the progressive left in an effort to establish herself as a moderate candidate, and now faces the Republican John Boozman in November. The two-term Senator “defied predictions to hold onto the Democratic nomination.”Check out her voting record here.

Meg Whitman won the Republican Gubernatorial primary, making her the “first female billionaire to translate her business acumen into politics” after being the former chief executive of eBay. Peter Beinart of the Daily Beast comments, “[she] opposes the right to abortion, can’t decide if global warming is real, [and] won the endorsement of Sarah Palin.” Whitman spent almost $80 million on her successful campaign, much of it her own money. Whitman will face Jerry Brown (D), a “former two-term governor hoping to win back his old job,” in the November elections.

Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, won the Republican Senate nomination in California. Fiorina commented in her victory speech on Tuesday night, “Career politicians in Washington and Sacramento be warned, because you now face your worst nightmare: two businesswomen from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done.” Fiorina was the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company. She will face another woman, the incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer (D), in November.

Whitman and Fiorina’s nomination brought an end to the status quo in California, where the state’s Republican Party has never nominated a woman for governor or Senate.

Kamala Devi Harris, the current district attorney for San Francisco, declared victory in the Democratic primary for the position of state attorney general, for which she would be the first African-American and Asian-American woman. Jonathan Parker, political director of Emily’s List, calls her “a superstar for the future.”

Nikki Haley faces a June 22nd runoff challenge (NOTE 7/15: she did in fact win this runoff) for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in South Carolina, a state where no women occupy an elected position in the 46-member Senate, after receiving 49% of the vote in the Tuesday primary. She would be the first Indian-American governor of South Carolina. Like Fiorina and Whitman, Haley was also endorsed by Palin, which some think contributed to her jump to the front of the “crowded GOP field” in South Carolina.

Roxanne Conlin won the Democratic primary in Iowa, a state that has never elected a woman to the House or Senate. Conlin took “an overwhelming percentage of the vote,” leaving her two male competitors in the dust. She will face five-term incumbent Senator Sen. Charles Grassley (R) in November.

Sharron Angle will face incumbent Senator Harry Reid (D) in November, who was apparently “hoping to face off against this rather extreme candidate,” rather than the two other potential contenders that she ousted. Angle, a tea-party endorsed candidate, holds some “controversial positions,” including “abolishing the Department of Education, getting the United States out of the United Nations, and privatizing and/or phasing out social security.” The GOP is focusing, on the other hand, on the 13.7% unemployment rate in Nevada, which they feel incumbent Senator Reid has failed to address.

Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell took the Democratic gubernatorial victory in Maine, where she has served 12 terms in the state’s legislature (both House and Senate) and is currently the majority leader within that governing body. She is the only woman in American history to serve as speaker of a state house of representatives and president of a state senate. She would be the first woman governor for Maine. Mitchell will face Waterville Mayor Paul LePage (R) in November, as well as 3 independent candidates.

What do these victories mean for women and for the feminist movement?

The Women’s Campaign Forum, despite not sharing the Republican candidate’s “views on reproductive health choices,” still feels “encouraged,” writing “this sudden deluge of victories has forced the country to stand up and take notice of women’s political power.”

Just four days after that post to their website, though, the same organization wrote the following:

While it cannot be denied that Fiorina and Haley’s [and Haley’s and Angle’s] wins are historic, they also beg the question: Are these victories for women?

As feminism and the women’s movement were born out of the need for reproductive freedom in the form of birth control in the 1970’s, can an anti-choice woman running for office be considered a feminist just because she is a woman? The answer: No.

While, here at WCF, we applaud conservative female candidates who have risen above the misogynistic tactics thrown at them during their races, feminist victories will only come from women who support reproductive health choices.

Feminist or not, are these elections an indication that women are gaining representation in elected offices nationwide? Democratic National Committee Vice-Chair woman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) argues against this conclusion. On Sunday’s Meet the Press she asserted that 2010 cannot yet be dubbed “The Year of the Woman.” Wasserman Schultz noted that “women are still largely failing to run for office, especially in the Republican Party” and pointed to meager number of women on the National Republican Congressional Committee “Young Guns” watch list – just seven of the 103.

Female representation in our federal legislature (along with numerous other governing bodies in the United States) leaves much to be desired. Here are some “fast facts,” brought to you by the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

  • Women hold 90, or 16.8%, of the 535 seats in the 111th U.S. Congress.
  • Of these 90, only 23.3% identify as women of color (20 Democrats, 1 Republican).
  • Women hold 73, or 16.8% of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives
  • Of these 73, 56 are Democrats and 17 are Republicans.
  • Of these 73, only 3 chair a House of Representatives committee and only 7 hold a leadership position within their political party.
  • Women hold 17, or 17% of the 100 seats in the 111th U.S. Senate.
  • Of these 17, 13 are Democrats and 4 are Republicans.
  • Of these 17, only 3 chair a Senate committee and only 4 hold a leadership position within their political party.
  • Only 262 women have served in the U.S. Congress to date (167 Democrats, 85 Republicans).

At the Women’s Law Project, we don’t endorse candidates. But we are concerned with the lack of female representation in our country’s public offices. Thus, when high-profile victories for female candidates bring attention to this issue of female representation, we are eager to jump into the discussion.

We want to hear from YOU! What do you think? Do these victories mark a new era for women in politics? Leave a comment below!

((originally posted to the Women’s Law Project blog))

((also posted to the WomenVotePA website))

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