Can mothers be lawmakers? Ohio senator asks

An Ohio politician is drawing ire for suggesting that being the mother of two young children makes his political opponent a less viable candidate. 

Jim Bourg/Reuters
Two babies wait as their mothers talk with US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a campaign stop at the Adel Family Fun Center bowling alley in Adel, Iowa January 27, 2016.

Jennifer Herold, a mother of two, is running for the 7th House district seat in the Ohio legislature. An occupational therapist, the Republican candidate has two main issues on her platform: mental health awareness and funding for schools.

But her opponent, state Sen. Tom Patton, is drawing attention to another element of her campaign. On a radio show last week, he emphasized the fact that Ms. Herold is a young mother.

The gal that’s running against me is a 30-year-old, you know, mom, mother of two infants,” Patton said on America’s Work Force radio show with Ed Ferenc.

“I don’t know if anybody explained to her you have to spend three nights a week in Columbus. So, how does that work out for you? I waited until I was 48, until my kids were raised, and at least adults, before we took the opportunity to try.”

Mr. Patton, who told the radio host that he hasn’t faced any primary challenges since 2002, went on to call Ms. Herold by what some would consider a term of condescension – “sweetie.”

"You know one of the things my opponent is running against is how hard she’s going to work on education,” he went on to say, touting his accomplishment in gaining additional school funding. “And I want to tell her, 'Hey Sweetie, I just got 27 percent of the pie in just my district, which is nine times what should have been done."

In a written statement on Facebook, Herold addresses her opponent and defends her and her family’s decision to join the race. She calls his comments “insulting and discriminatory.”

“We realize the sacrifice that is involved in holding such a position,” she wrote. “However, Tom Patton has crossed a line by trying to turn the fact that I am a mother of two children, into a negative campaign issue. It’s insulting for my opponent to suggest that motherhood is a liability. In fact, my experience as a mom is perhaps my greatest strength."

"Tom, only one man in my life is allowed to call me 'sweetie,'” she continued. “From now on, I respectfully ask you to refer to me as Jen, Jennifer, Ms. Herold, or your opponent.”

Herold highlights the fact that female lawmakers have children of all ages in the Ohio legislature. Two female House members, Reps. Christie Kuhns, (D) of Cincinnati, and Christina Hagan, (R) of Alliance, both gave birth this session. Ms. Hagan even took her 1-month-old daughter Josephine to the House chamber Wednesday.

Of course, many – if not, most – male lawmakers also run and serve for office as fathers, including Republican Gov. John Kasich. Herold questioned whether Patton would have said the same for a young father candidate.

On the national arena, more than a dozen women in Congress have school-age children. In the 2014 midterm elections, 12 young mothers ran for office – nine Democrats and three Republicans, according to Emily's List.

Until recently, women tend to wait until their children are older to run for office. According to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women in Politics, women on average enter politics four years later than men, at age 51 compared to 47.

Kelly Dittmar, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, told Time magazine that the concern of women balancing work and life in politics is becoming outdated.

“What is interesting is to see how women use their motherhood as a credential for office holding, instead of an impediment or barrier to office holding, as it has often been historically framed,” she said.

In response to Herold’s backlash, Patton said he did not intend to insult her, or young mothers.

"As a widower who raised five daughters, it was not my intention to suggest that a young mother couldn't serve ably in the legislature," he said. "I used a poor choice of words to express what I know first-hand – raising young children and working is tough. Millions of women do just that every day, including my own daughters. I would ask to be judged on my hard work and advocacy for working families. I sincerely apologize if my words were misplaced on this matter."

The two candidates will face off March 15. If Herold wins, she will face Democrat David Thurau in November. Being a state representative would be her first public office.

“I want to make a difference and bring light to some issues,” Herold told the Royalton Post in November, when she announced her candidacy. “I’m hoping to bring a fresh perspective. Sometimes a fresh perspective isn’t a bad thing.

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