NEWS & RECORD: Column — Surge in women candidates is both welcome and overdue
hen 4 million women took to the streets in protest after the election of Donald Trump, that made a powerful statement. But it also prompted a question: Will it last?
The uprising of women that began with last year’s election is beginning to look like a movement instead of a moment.
Women formed groups, began organizing visits to legislators and spurred email and phone campaigns to block legislation they opposed. Emily’s List, an organization that supports pro-choice Democratic women in politics, saw a 2,000 percent increase in women expressing an interest in activism after the 2016 election. Many of them decided to run for office.
On Nov. 7, Democratic women — many of them first-time candidates — scored numerous electoral victories across the country. In places as different as Utah and Seattle, Wash., women won elections for mayor, lieutenant governor and state house.
“Virginia women ran in record numbers this year, and their victories are one big story of this election,” Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said the day after the election. “Running as challengers, they defied conventional wisdom and predictions to score some surprising wins.”
Even the Greensboro City Council was swept by women in November. The only male left on that body is incumbent Justin Outling, who didn’t have a female challenger.
It appears women also may run in record numbers across the state in 2018, based on local candidates who have already declared, and a “Blue Monday” flood of Democratic women who announced last week.
In the local N.C. House districts being considered under court-ordered redistricting, longtime Republican incumbent John Blust will face Ashton Wheeler Clemmons, a former teacher and principal in Guilford County who now works as assistant superintendent for Thomasville schools. Health care executive Martha Shafer will challenge Rep. John Faircloth.
UNC-Greensboro professor Jennifer Mangrum will challenge Phil Berger in the N.C. Senate.
In the U.S. Congress, Greensboro attorney and civic leader Kathy Manning will run for the 13th District seat now held by freshman U.S. Rep. Ted Budd (R-Advance).
Of the nine candidates announced for the N.C. House by the N.C. Democratic Party, six were women, and two were women of color. The diversity of this group, representing both rural and urban districts, is a welcome departure for a body long dominated by older white men.
The time finally may have come when the electorate realizes that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Electing candidates who are primarily male, older, and established politicians has landed us where we are today: with a dysfunctional Congress and a dictatorial General Assembly.
If you want your interests represented, you’re likely to be better off with candidates who share your life experiences. Candidates who care more about solving problems than stroking egos. Candidates who know how to work together instead of treating policy debates like a schoolyard standoff.
Former President Barack Obama recently spoke about the importance of having more women in power “because men seem to be having some problems these days.” That’s the understatement of the year.
There is a strong body of evidence that women are often better leaders.
In a study of effective leadership by Zenger Folkman, a psychologist with a specialty in computer science and statistics, women scored higher than men in 12 out of the 16 leadership competencies measured, with the highest scores in taking the initiative and driving for results. Other leadership skills in which women scored higher were:
Displaying high integrity and honesty.
Practicing collaboration and teamwork.
Analyzing issues and solving problems.
Inspiring and motivating higher performance in others.
Communicating powerfully and prolifically.
These are some of the qualities that are sadly lacking in the current political landscape.
To win, you first need the courage to run, even if the odds are against you. All of the local members of the General Assembly so far being challenged by women — Blust, Faircloth and Berger — ran unopposed in 2016 because they have been in safely gerrymandered districts.
Although their districts may shift slightly under the plan now being considered by a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, those races still won’t be a cakewalk. The remainder of Guilford County’s delegation is dominated by women and minorities.
The women challenging theses incumbents are first-time candidates who are bucking the status quo, and they deserve the full support of the N.C. Democratic Party.
In Virginia, first-timers Kathy Tran, who is Asian-American, and Danica Roem, who is transgender, were among the women who defied the odds and helped erase a huge Republican majority in the Virginia House of Delegates.
Now the N.C. Democratic Party and Gov. Roy Cooper have joined forces on a ”Break the Majority” campaign in the N.C. General Assembly.
Accomplishing that depends not only on the women who are running but the women who are voting. It was the women’s vote that propelled Democrat Ralph Northam into the Virginia governor’s seat. African-American women voters also played a key role in defeating accused sexual predator Roy Moore in Alabama on Tuesday.
The women who rose up during the Women’s March are refusing to take a seat. The surge in female candidates and the power of women voters show they are ready to step to the front of the line and create the change they want to see.