Friday, April 16, 2010

Commonwealth Commentary: Why Women Run Recap

More than 70 guests attended the Massachusetts Women Political Caucus’ (MWPC) first Commonwealth Commentary of 2010 at Boston Omni Parker House on Wednesday, April14. Moderated by NewsCenter 5 political reporter Janet Wu, the discussion focused on why women run for office and featured two prominent women politicians, Representative (11th District) Karyn Polito (R) and Suzanne Bump (D), Former Secretary of Labor for the Commonwealth. Both women are running for state-wide public office in the 2010 election cycle, Bump for Auditor and Polito for Treasurer. MWPC Vice-President, Pam Nourse, welcomed attendees and thanked sponsors Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, UMass-Boston Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, and Karyn Polito.

Noting that two women, Sarah Palin and Senate President Therese Murray dominated the front page of both local papers that morning, moderator Wu said it was a sign of the times that would have been unheard of when she began her career as a reporter more than 30 years ago. The two candidates joined Wu in a candid discussion of their reasons for seeking elected office and the challenges they faced.

Responding to the question of what she felt was her greatest challenge in her first run for statewide office, Bump mentioned the overall political climate, particularly Martha Coakley’s loss and the fact that so much money was generated and spent on that race, making fundraising more difficult especially for women running in “down ballot” races. Polito agreed and in expanding on the fundraising difficulties that women face, she said men are much more generous to men candidates than women are to fellow women candidates. “We must support each other!” Polito declared.

Polito was asked if she thought Senator Scott Brown’s election might have a snowball effect by creating the kind of momentum that might open the doors for more Republican women to run for, and finally win, a statewide seat. Polito responded that she felt the important thing that came out of Brown’s election, for anyone running for office, was that it underscored a change in Massachusetts’ political climate, and spurred a greater involvement in the electoral process. Asked by an audience member how they planned to build on that mantra of change considering that both women served as elected officials; both candidates said they felt confident that their records would show that they were independent thinkers and dedicated public servants who first and foremost worked for, and answered to, the people they were elected to represent. Both said another challenge for them was educating people about what the offices of Treasurer and State Auditor did so voters could see the many different opportunities that the offices offered.

Wu asked the audience of mostly young professionals if anyone was interested in running for office. Several hands went up. Probing deeper, as is her trademark, Wu asked one of the respondents what motivated her to decide she wanted to run. She responded that many in her generation felt that just getting a political degree wasn’t enough to effectively take what they had learned to the next level, but direct involvement, and developing skills as an advocate or being elected to office, gave her the greatest opportunity to make a real difference. Acting MWPC Executive Director Priti Rao called attention to the importance of MWPC as a vehicle for just that kind of involvement and asked attendees to volunteer their time to MWPC to help continue to give women running for political office the tools and support they needed to effectively compete.

Spotted in the crowd: Karen Payne, former head of the NAACP, currently running for the seat vacated by Representative Willie Mae Allen; legendary activist family members Gladys Vega and her daughter, City Councilor Madelyn Vega, from Chelsea, Carol Fanta-Hardy and Donna Stewartson, of UMass-Boston Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, who proudly pointed out CWPP graduate Christina Knowles, who now serves as the new State Director of Massachusetts National Organization for Women (NOW).