By Ruth RachelDWMC-webheader-corrected
Re-posted from dw-mc.org

Background: Delaine Eastin, former California State Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1995-2003, was the first and only woman in history to be elected to that position. She has a rich and extensive biography, with a life dedicated to the education of our youth, and through her work in the California State Assembly, she advanced the values that women share. Delaine spoke with Ruth Rachel about close the gap CA, an organization dedicated to electing more women to the California State legislature. Ruth is President of the Democratic Women of Monterey County.

 

Q: Tell us about close the gap and your duties as President.
A: As a political science instructor in the 1970’s I became aware of the lack of women in political life. Later, as a city councilwoman in Union City in 1980, I saw that having a council majority of women on our city council changed Union City and strengthened the governance. We collaborated with the school district to focus on attendance in the high school using our police department. At the time, the men on the council were not in support of this action. They said attendance was a school district problem. We succeeded beyond all expectations with James Logan High School becoming one of the top 10 feeder schools for affirmative action to UC Berkeley; the teen pregnancy rate dropped and the day time crime rate dropped 33%. Although the men on the council eventually came around, it was the women on the council who saw a problem and took action.

 

A study by the Hunt Family Foundation shows that when a governing body like Parliament or a legislature gets more than 30% women, the women fundamentally change public policy for the better. We have been investing in the wrong stuff, like expensive wars as an example at the national level, and a Cadillac prison system at the state level, arguably because of a paucity of women in our governing bodies.

 

Close the gap, along with other efforts, i.e.CA Women Lead, EMILY’s List, and others, help to elect women. Close the gap is primarily dedicated to supporting Progressive candidates running for the legislature across California. I like and support men, but all things being equal, I support women. Women tend to have a more common sense approach to issues and problems and they know budgets are statements of values. To have dropped to 49th in per pupil spending when we are number ONE in per prisoner expenditures says a lot. We must get more women to the table, and because of term limits, the elections of 2014 and 2016 are especially important.

 

I was nominated to be President of the Board of close the gap CA and am happy to do it. I will be working with and supporting other like-minded organizations, and will be looking for women to run who show promise and are well grounded, intelligent and have integrity. Today, too many politicians are getting our priorities wrong. Women got the vote in California in 1911. When I went to the legislature in 1986, I was only the 33rd woman in history to serve in the legislature. I remain the first and only woman to be Superintendent of Public Instruction. This abysmal record needs to change!

 

Delaine EastinQ: Why do you think it is important we have more women legislators?
A: Budgets are a statement of values, and budgets of too many male legislators tend to support wars and militarism. Women tend to care more about families, education, health care, reproductive rights and infrastructure. Women tend to be more prudent as to how to use taxpayer monies—they are more likely to pay as you go. I have also seen and participated in great collaboration among women legislators, and in my career, have received fabulous support from other women and some fine men. Having said this, in the bigger states and in the bigger races, it is more expensive to run for office today. It is harder for women to raise money, hence the emergence of organizations like Emily’s List, which raises early money for women candidates. 

Early money is very important. Perhaps a reason that women have been under represented in legislatures is that women have often been in careers or have served in roles that are not al well designed to teach fundraising skill. If your job title has been as homemaker, teacher, nurse, you may not have not been in a position to understand or have had access to the process of political fundraising. Women are now in more non-traditional roles, as, for example, bankers and attorneys, and are better positioned to participate in the world of American politics.

 

Q: What do you see are the key obstacles to women running for political office and how can the DWMC help? 
A: Money and the ability to effectively fundraise are one of the top issues. Women still are often in professions that do not offer political exposure, and the system can work against a women running for office who are not affluent. Some behaviors are accepted in men, but as we all know, are still perceived as a shortcoming in women. If a female candidate is forthcoming, she may be characterized combative while her male counterpart would be characterized as strong. Men are flexible but women are wishy washy. Remember too, women still make 77 cents for every $1 made by men. It is harder for women to make the case to run for office, particularly with young children and issues with child care. 

I believe that any good legislator (woman or man) must possess the following characteristics: honesty, a brass backbone, a capacity for hard work, attention to detail, respectful, play by the rules, be well informed, have vision, heart and have good organizational skills but, most importantly, be committed to serving constituents. All legislators should hire smart, respectful people to work for them.

 

The DWMC can help women by financially supporting women candidates, directly or by having fundraisers. Assistance in fundraising is probably the most important thing the DWMC can do. Primary dollars are sometimes more important than general dollars for women and specifically Latina women. Depending on the district of course, it cost $550,000 in 1986 to run for state assembly. Today that number could be as high as $1 million to $1.5 million. A race that is statewide (controller) could need $3 million to be $10 million to be successful.

 

Q: How will close the gap measure success?
A: 2013 to 2016 is an excellent time for women to run for office. Nearly 50% of Assembly and Senate seats will be open from 2014 to 2016. In the last 10 years representation by women has dropped from 31% to 26%. Our goal is to have at least 30% of our state legislators be women by 2016. Because of term limits this a propitious time for women. We are looking for strong progressive women candidates. We are looking for women with courage to speak for the values most women support and families need, and in the words of former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin, “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.”
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