Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bennington/Female Candidates Redux

Good questions from Chris Potter:

“…some of us are interested in the Blogging Society's take on Bennington's decision not to run again. It raises a ton of questions for women and everyone else.

If I recall correctly, Run Baby Run touted Bennington to no small extent because her opponent a) was a man, and b) voted in favor of the pay raise. (As Elsie Hillman put it in a RBR release, "Can you imagine the difference in the culture of Harrisburg if half of our legislators were female? It is time to change realities like ... the pay raise.")

I'm not suggesting those are bad reasons for casting a vote. But as you no doubt recall, Bennington's opponent was Frank Pistella, who was actually a reliably progressive vote on issues like abortion and gay rights. Now that Bennington has decided to step down, we face the very real possibility that she will be replaced with yet another male ... and one who is less reform-minded and less friendly to women than Pistella ever was.

1) Bennington ran on a campaign of reform. Since serious reform often requires sustained effort over many years, has she let down those who supported her by bailing out after a single term? Your remarks about fish fries suggest that some of us -- may underestimate the challenges of holding office. Is that true? If so, how should we change the way we engage in politics, or our opinion of those politicians we love to bitch about?

2) Run Baby Run's efforts have been directed at PUTTING women in office. Is there a way to expand the organization's efforts so that it finds a way to help KEEP them there once elected? Fish fries aren't going anywhere, and the legislature seems likely to be male-dominated for the foreseeable future. Is there anything RBR or other groups can do to support female candidates who have to contend with that?

3) If Bennington is replaced by, say, Leonard Bodack, would that necessarily mean it was a mistake to turn away from Pistella in the first place?

4) Could, and should, RBR put a premium on running women against reactionary males -- as opposed to more enlightened incumbents like Pistella? Similarly, in the future, should Run Baby Run establish a "litmus test" criteria for supporting candidates OTHER than gender? (I ask because in 2006, RBR also supported an anti-choice candidate, Eileen Watt, against Democrat Frank Dermody, who is pro-choice.) Or should female candidates be supported no matter where they run, and no matter what their politics? I believe the latter is RBR's position at present. Can that policy be changed? should it?

5) More generally, when faced with the choices we had in those two 2006 races, where should progressives put their emphasis? On the established track records of pro-choice males, or on our hopes that more inclusivity is a good thing in itself -- even if it means backing candidates we disagree with, or who are simply less know quantities? If we choose the male in the race, we risk perpetuating politics as usual, and leaving the guys calling the shots. If we choose the latter, we risk a kind of identity-politics tokenism.”

6 comments:

  1. My thoughts re Chris’ questions, when I say ‘legislative’, ‘legislator’, I am referring to school bd., city councils, state leg., etc. Pardon the clumsy writing, I wanted to get this out quickly.

    1. Many people have been disappointed/mystified by Bennington’s dropping out. My real world observations lead me to believe that we must take the time with potential candidates to thoroughly & truthfully explain the challenges of holding office, with emphasis on the demands on their time. To help prep the RBR candidates they participated on a conference call with three female legislators. The candidates asked them about the particulars of life on both the campaign trail and in elected office.

    Was that enough? Hearing and seeing are different things. I’d suggest that potential candidates ‘shadow’ an elected official for a few days to get first hand experience, or intern in a legislator’s office.

    Everyone underestimates the challenges of holding office. When citizens engage in politics or bitch about politicians, I’d ask only that they remember the pressure & difficulties electeds are working under & the sacrifices they’ve made in their personal lives to accommodate their pledge to serve their communities to the best of their abilities.

    2. There are some orgs specifically for female, (& other groups’), elected officials. I imagine that part of their function is to serve as unofficial support groups. It’d be worth researching if, in fact, that’s what they do. Surveying female legislators, asking them what the challenges are, what resources they need, if they take vacations/extended breaks from work, if they’re holding down another job/responsibilities, would give direction as to what corrective measures should be taken.

    3. Right now there are 2 first time reps not seeking re-election. I don’t believe it was a mistake for either of them to run for office. Bennington leaves office having taught us an important lesson: it can be done. A political novice can take on an entrenched incumbent and win, (on her first try).

    It’s up to the rest of us to recruit good candidates to replace her and to support their campaigns.

    4. My original goal for RBR still stands, to recruit & train women & men who aren’t politically connected/wealthy, to run for office. Relying on foundation support, all of my trainings have had to be non-partisan. Many organizations & PACs already exist with ‘litmus tests’ & offer like-minded candidates support & training.

    Personally I will not vote for a candidate just b/c she’s a woman (or anything else for that matter).
    However, my research into how women affect work done in legislative bodies, indicates that regardless of party affiliation, age, race, etc., if 1/3 of legislators are women, significant changes occur. (I can pull out my notes if you’re interested in this.)

    1/3 women increases work ethic/output of all members & increases gov’t transparency. When women create legislation they typically do it with a group of people invested in the future law, the group includes constituents, activists, fellow legislators. The result is that a broad group feels ownership and the strong coalitions formed lead to women’s legislation being more readily & quickly passed.

    1/3 women asks & addresses different questions.

    5. Your point on targeting which incumbents to challenge is good & in the real world, it’s also difficult. It takes months to recruit Jane Q. Public, let alone finding her in a particular district. I believe a good approach is to continually train diverse people on how to run for office. Maintaining this data and mentoring/supporting candidates when opportunities arise would be wonderful, but would need to be funded. None of this stuff is quick, easy.

    Because this work takes so much time & effort, (and is poorly recompensed, if at all), I have decided to focus on assisting progressive candidates from the demographic groups terribly underrepresented in our region. Most of these will be unknown quantities. I will let the white men take care of the white men, as they’re already doing a heck of a job of helping each other around here.

    I’m not worried about tokenism. Electing just one Jane Q. Public is hard enough per election cycle. Eventually, though, if we can succeed in each cycle, Jane’ll have company.

    What if Mr. Progressive Incumbent and his challenger progressive newcomer Jane Q. Public share similar visions for the future of my district? My gut tells me I’d vote for Jane.

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  2. There are some orgs specifically for female, (& other groups’), elected officials. I imagine that part of their function is to serve as unofficial support groups. It’d be worth researching if, in fact, that’s what they do. Surveying female legislators, asking them what the challenges are, what resources they need, if they take vacations/extended breaks from work, if they’re holding down another job/responsibilities, would give direction as to what corrective measures should be taken.

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  3. Does anyone have any ideas who Bennington is supporting?

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  4. Why does it matter who she supports? What matters is the best person for the job. If you REALLY want to know the perspective of how the legislature works, who is effective, and whether gender matters, you should ask female STAFF - get the facts - and not draw conclusions based upon broad research. The Pennsylvania General Assembly is unique. It is impacted by the various communities and political groups situated in Pennsylvania. As with all social groups, it is imperative to understand the environment so you can build the necessary relationships to get things done. Bennington did not do that, and I don't have the confidence that anyone she supports would have such skill, knowledge, intelligence, and ability.

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  5. concerned female democratFebruary 11, 2008 at 1:05 AM

    Well, ladies, if the democratic endorsement vote is any indication, Brenda Frazier does not stand a chance. Right now our choices are either Lenny Bodack or Frank Pistella. Bodack is loyal to party bosses, and Pistella is loyal to the party (not party bosses) as well as his constituents. Now, pick, and we better hurry if we want someone progressive who can and will move forward with our issues. To me, the issue is clear - we want Pistella. If we don't want Bodack, we had better come forward soon while we still have a choice.

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