Holly Richardson: From marching to running: Getting more women elected

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep.-elect Marsha Judkins is a Republican who just won election in House District 61. She's one of two new Republicans who will be coming to the Legislature in January. The number of women in the Utah Legislature will reach a historic high in 2019 at 24 percent.

If you’ve ever thought “We need more women in elected office,” I hope you’ve also thought “How can I help make that happen?” Too often, it seems, people pay lip service to wanting to see more women in government but don’t follow through with actions that make a difference.

Jessica Preece, a political scientist who teaches at Brigham Young University, has done some interesting research into gender and politics. Some GOP political insiders might remember caucus night in 2014, where some precinct chairs were asked to read a short statement about considering voting for women as delegates. As it turns out, there were four statements and they were part of a research project by Preece and her colleagues, Christopher Karpowitz and Quin Monson. What they found was reading a statement encouraging caucus goers to recruit two or three women to run as delegates and encouraging them to elect more women as delegates resulted in 25 percent more women being elected in those precincts than in the control groups.

According to Preece, the biggest issues in getting Republican women elected happen at the recruitment stage. Women aren’t being asked to run, or if they are, it’s usually just once. Specific conversations with specific women for specific offices needs to happen more. “Here is your path to victory and here is how we will help you win.” And, the conversations need to happen more than once.

How you ask also matters. According to a Politico investigative piece, women run when they “see political office as a way to fix problems and improve communities.” Women are more likely to run because of a specific policy concern, than their male colleagues, who are more likely to say they ran to “fulfill a lifelong dream.”

According to Jon Cox’s new book “Utah Politics,” it’s common for “enthusiastic supporters” of the idea of you running to disappear once you actually do run. Female candidates run into this problem even more, so once you’ve recruited a woman to run for office, continue to provide support.

That means you donate and you get your friends to donate. Female candidates have a harder time raising money, partly because, as research has shown, female donors ignore gender and donate equally to men and women, but male donors donate almost exclusively to male candidates. Additionally, donations to women are typically smaller, so while a male candidate might be able to raise $1000 with one phone call, it’s not uncommon for a woman to make ten or twenty phone calls to raise the same $1000.

Don’t hesitate to endorse her. While endorsements aren’t the be all and end all of campaigns, having endorsements from people of influence doesn’t hurt and can help.

Male and female candidates can also move the needle by hiring female campaign workers, and beyond the two “socially acceptable” jobs of fundraiser and scheduler. A December article in Politico talked about “The Hardest Glass Ceiling in Politics” and after interviewing more than 50 women across the political spectrum came to the conclusion that being taken seriously as a campaign professional was even more difficult than being a candidate.

How offensive is it to have men caution other men to “be careful” when hiring women because they can’t possibly know enough to win a race. It’s a totally false narrative but unfortunately, it continues to spread. Utah has a number of very competent female campaigners. If you’re in a position to do so, consider hiring women. Mitt Romney did just that in his recent race when he hired Kelsey Berg as his political director and now has hired her as his Deputy Chief of Staff.

If you want to learn more about helping women move from marching to running, or if you yourself want to become a candidate, Real Women Run, a nonpartisan organization, is holding their annual training next Saturday on the SLCC Miller Campus in Sandy. The keynote speaker is the former lieutenant governor of Illinois, Evelyn Sanguinetti, the first Latina lieutenant governor in state history, and many women (and a couple of men) who know their way around Utah politics. See you there.

(Photo Courtesy Holly Richardson)

Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, is privileged to know many great women who would do a great job in political office.