This week, I’ll step into the role of President for California Women Lead, the only statewide, nonpartisan women’s organization in California with a commitment to providing women with the training and support they need to be successful in the political arena. It’s an honor I don’t take lightly and, while the title sounds impressive and my-mother-would-have-been-proud, it’s mostly a lot of work. Pressing for equity in the political marketplace remains a heavy lift. If you take a quick glance at our state board, though, you’ll understand why I’m optimistic. It’s full of political rock stars.
CA Women Lead was founded in 1974, as the California Elected Women’s Association for Elected Women and Research (CEWAER) and brought together elected and appointed women who were scattered throughout state government. The view, then, was that women leaders were more than role models – they could use their collective influence to help the aspirations of all women. And, the women recognized that they needed support, friends and a network – in other words, a counterpart to the ‘old boys’ club.” Sound familiar?
The fledgling group presented then-recently elected Governor Jerry Brown and his appointments secretary with a binder-full of resumes and pressed him to name women to senior roles in his administration. Two women, Secretary of Resources Clair Dedrick and Secretary of Agriculture Rose Bird, served in Governor Brown’s first cabinet. Not much has changed, other than the organization’s name, in 2007.
We’ll continue to press this Governor (who has an excellent track record on appointing women, btw) and the next to appoint women to Cabinet and senior level roles in state government. We remain non-partisan and we don’t endorse candidates.
While we’ve made some headway, for sure – evidenced by the three women leaders our organization is honoring this week (Nancy McFadden, Executive Secretary to the Governor; Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and former Assembly Republican Caucus Leader Kristen Olsen) – the level of under-representation for women in this arena is still appalling, in my opinion.
So, we’ll remain true to the mission of our founders and will continue to train, empower and encourage women in all regions of the state to run for office or apply for an appointment at the state or local level.
But, we’ve got to do more. I plan to use my tenure to encourage women to do what the guys do: they write checks. We’ve got to use the power of our purses and kick off our pumps to move the needle. Women candidates need money and they need foot-soldiers on the ground, door-by-door, to win elections. This is the year for all of us ’girls’ – regardless of party – to step up our game.
In the words of one of my political she-roes, Barbara Jordan: Life is too large to hang out a sign: ‘For Men Only.’