The 30 Percent Solution - Part 2

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The following is meant as an expansion on my January 7 column, "The 30 Percent Solution," an analysis of feminist political power and how to grow it. The secret to getting women's concerns onto the public agenda is to have at 30 percent female participation in legislative, boards, cabinets and other policy-making groups, private and public.

So how do we go about getting more women elected to public bodies on all levels of government, all across the world?

In December 2007, the United Nations Womens Environment and Development Organization released a report on women candidates and campaign finance. It's conclusions were perhaps not terribly surprising. Nor were its recommendations. Yet I think that they are worth reviewing here if we are to think seriously about how to bring more women into decision-making roles in public life.

According to the report, women decline to get involved in electoral politics for a number of reasons. There are cultural restrictions, of course. But there are also financial limitations.

Unlike Sarah Palin, who had a number of GOP sugar daddies willing to provide her with hundreds of thousands of dollars in designer clothes for the campaign trail last fall, most women who enter politics find themselves financially out on a limb and on their own.

Not only do women make less money that men all over the world, but they have less access to credit and other informal sources of funding that have traditionally been available to men. Women are less inclined to invest family resources in a political campaign, resources that they do not feel that they individually own. Men as a group are not so circumspect. Women are less inclined or able to pay for domestic and childcare assistance, which they would not be able to perform while involved in politics. They are less inclined to leave their jobs, understanding that they might not be able to return or they might lose rank or seniority if they seek to return to an old job following a political race.

According to the WEDO report:

  • Individual contributions overwhelmingly comprise the most important source of financing for all candidates, both men and women.

  • The average size of individual donations to most female candidates continues to be smaller than the average donation to male candidates.

  • The vast majority of large donors to political campaigns are men.

  • Female candidates generally depend on female supporters for financial viability and win money from male donors only as their odds of winning approach certainty.

  • The small individual contributions received by females suggest that they must attract much greater numbers of individual contributors than their male counterparts just to equalize the total money value of their contributions.

  • Women who win raise significantly more money the women who lose, while male winners collect only marginally more money than their losing counterparts.

  • And finally, female candidates require more money than men to reach the thresholds of both campaign viability and electoral success.

All of this data point up the need for a woman to have access to a large amount of campaign money in order to have a serious chance of winning. That's where EMILY's List comes in. EMILY is an acronym for Early Money is Like Yeast....Because It Makes Dough Rise.

EMILY's List was created in 1985 by Ellen Malcolm, an independently wealthy feminist, and a group of U.S. Women who saw the need to increase feminist women's participation in politics. At the time it was created, women in this country held only 5 percent of congressional seats and barely15 percent of state legislative and statewide offices. By raising and selectively distributing large amounts of progressive money EMILY's List has been largely responsible for the increase we see in those numbers today. If there is any one single thing that people can do to help elect more feminist women to elective office today, I think it would be to contribute to EMILY's List. The second most important thing women can do to increase that number is to run for office themselves, because you can't get elected if you don't run and male candidates still outnumber female candidates for all offices 4-to-1.

Perhaps Anne Peterson Hutto had this in mind when she announced for the House District 115 seat early last year. Had she known how bitter the road to the Statehouse would be, she might not have bothered. First, she had to face a male primary opponent who thought that he held some entitlement to the Democratic nomination, by virtue of having won it two years ago and coming within 40 votes of defeating the Republican incumbent then. When she defeated this male challenger in the June primary, he violated his signed Democratic Party pledge and claimed the Green Party nomination for the District 115 seat. It took a trip to state court by Hutto Peterson and the Charleston County Democratic Party to get him removed from the ballot.

Then, in the November election, she defeated Republican incumbent Wallace Scarborough by 211 votes, after a bitter campaign. The election was unanimously certified by the county election commission, but Scarborough was not satisfied. He appealed to the state Election Commission, claiming massive vote fraud. The charge was preposterous and the Election Commission rejected it unanimously. Now Scarborough is appealing to his former colleagues in the House of Representatives, asking them to throw out the November 4 results and order another election.

It is an unprecedented and highly questionable maneuver on Scarborough's part and it is not expected to succeed, but it is yet another obstacle to Peterson Hutto's service after she has legitimately won the election. It is remarkable that both her Democratic primary opponent and her Republican general election opponent would go to such extraordinary efforts to deny her electoral victories she clearly won. I wonder if they would have treated a male opponent with such lack of respect.

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