Tired of partisan political gridlock? Instead of focusing on Democratic or Republican majorities, maybe it's time to try female majorities.
New research shows why we should actively invite more women to run for elected office. According to Quorum, a legislative research firm founded by two Harvard undergrads, "female members of Congress not only work more frequently with each other but also work more frequently across the aisle, passing more legislation in the Senate than their male colleagues."
Comity and legislative advancement sound like two qualities we could use more of in Lansing. Unfortunately, we don't currently have the numbers of women needed to make that happen.
Of the 148 legislators serving in Lansing, 31 are women. Only four sit in the state Senate. Though this session includes the first Asian-American woman (Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit) and the first Republican Latina woman (Rep. Daniela Garcia, R-Holland), only eight women of color sit in the Legislature. These numbers matter, especially when women were assigned to a mere 12.5% of legislative committee chairs and no member of the powerful "quadrant leadership" is female. These positions define the lawmaking agenda, decide which bills move and which die, and determine the overall policy priorities for the legislative session.
The Quorum findings are just the latest in a long line of research showing why we all should want more women in political leadership — in Washington, in Lansing and in our local governments. More women in decision-making means a broader understanding of how policies will play out in the real world and in the everyday lives of Michiganders. More women in the Legislature means more bipartisan problem-solving. More diversity, in general, means more perspectives, more experiences, more ideas and more minds are brought to the complex issues facing our state, counties and municipalities.
So, how can we increase the number of women serving in office? How do we ensure more women in leadership positions? The answer is simple: Ask them. Invite women to run for elected office, inform them about the political process, and support them as candidates and elected leaders. Because of term limits, there will be at least 40 open state House seats in 2016. There's no reason why at least half of those shouldn't be filled by a local female leader — we just have to recruit them.
Each of us knows at least three women who would make an effective elected official. We need to tell them so and encourage their political ambitions. Tools such as Invitation Nation on VoteRunLead.org make it easier than ever to recruit your friends to run for elected office.
Once recruited, there are many ways to demystify the political process and inform women about serving in elected office. Current elected women can share their stories of leadership and the realities of campaigning and serving with potential candidates. Nonpartisan training programs, such as Ready to Run Michigan — taking place April 18 in Saginaw — specifically address the challenges and opportunities for politically ambitious women of every age and political stripe. Groups like the Michigan Excellence in Public Service Series and MI List provide partisan-identified trainings for Republican and Democratic women, respectively. We can also direct recruits to resources available online through nonpartisan organizations, such as VoteRunLead, Higher Heights Leadership Fund and Latinas Represent.
No matter your opinion about any one political leader, we can all agree that the focus of discourse should always be about a candidate's agenda, not gender. We should work together to improve the political climate for women: call out sexist political jokes, rebuke reporters and pundits who spotlight superficial attributes such as necklines and pantsuits, and demand that leaders and voters alike judge female candidates on their policy positions, experience and character, not on archaic stereotypes about women.
If we invite, inform and support more female political leaders, maybe then we will start to see more bipartisan productivity in Lansing.
About the authors:
Shannon Garrett is co-founder and board president of VoteRunLead, a nonpartisan effort to unleash the power of women in democracy. Dawn Crandall is president of The Michigan Excellence in Public Service Series, training Republican women for political leadership. Both women are featured on the agenda for Ready to Run Michigan, a nonpartisan campaign training for women, taking place April 18 in Saginaw. For details, visit www.gvsu.edu/readytorun.