US Women Flex Political Muscle in Election '92

WOMEN political candidates across the country are running for public office in record numbers this year and will bring positive change to all levels of government, said a panel of four women elected officials at the League of Women Voters convention this week.

The panel discussion, featured as part of the four-day national convention here, included a wide-ranging look at issues involving women's role in election 1992.

"Nineteen ninety-two is a breakthrough year for us," said former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy (D) of Massachusetts. "What we will see is more of a sense that America is looking for different leadership ... opening up an opportunity for women and people of color the likes of which you have never seen before."

So far this year, 18 women are running for the United States Senate, 128 for the House of Representatives, and five for governor, said Harriett Woods, former Lieutenant-Governor of Missouri. Sixty-one women have already won primary House and Senate elections this year. In 1990, a total of 70 women won primary elections, said Woods, now president of the National Women's Political Caucus.

Even with these recent gains, few women and minorities hold political office at the federal level, said Oklahoma state Sen. Vicki Miles-LaGrange (D).

"You look at the face of the power in America," said Senator Miles-LaGrange. Only two women in the US Senate and no African-Americans, she said. At the state level, only three out of 50 have female governors. Only one of those 50 has a person of color, she continued.

Panelists agreed that political organizations, like the League of Women Voters, need to do more to bring together people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Women as political leaders are well-suited for this, said Miles-LaGrange.

"Some of the characteristics women bring are things like being a consensus builder, as opposed to authoritarian-type leaders, because it's going to take real consensus to solve some of our problems ... whether it's health care or education or the situation of the homeless," she said.

But women must first think about what each group is looking for and how to suit their particular needs, said Claudine Schneider (R), a former 10-year US congresswoman from Rhode Island.

"When you are attempting to broaden your organization, you must ask yourself the question, `What's in it for me?' And then answer that whether it be for the Hispanic community, the black community or the Asians," said former Representative Schneider (R). "Many of these communities are underrepresented in terms of being registered to vote and so they do not know that they have the power within themselves to make a difference."

Although Schneider ran an unsuccessful Senate campaign in 1990, her election to the House in 1980 helped pave the way for other Rhode Island women. Two women candidates there were elected to statewide office in the early 1980s. "My goal was to empower every single woman to realize that we have the responsibility and the ability to take on the task of decision making for our country," she said.

Panelists also discussed the difficulty women face in campaign fundraising. Women candidates need to get more money earlier in their campaigns, said Murphy.

"Often women candidates can raise as much, but it comes late," she says, only after it looks as though the woman can win. Miles-LaGrange had the problem when she was trying to raise money for her 1986 state senate campaign. "Nobody would give to me until after I came out No. 1 after a three-way primary," she said. "And literally, I ran and beat a 22-year incumbent on the little $5 and $10 contributions."

Panelists also talked about educating girls, as well as boys, to believe that they can make fine leaders."The sad thing is that women, mothers, have not planted that seed, that vision, that opportunity in the minds of many small children," said Schneider.

Murphy offered an anecdote that times may be changing. She recounted one incident when former Gov. Madeleine Kunin (D), after serving many years as Vermont's governor, was once asked by a little boy: "Can boys be governor too?"

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