It started on a residential street in St. Louis, Missouri with a busted manhole cover and a frustrated mother. After the noise from the cars banging against the damaged cover had disturbed her children’s naps one too many times the mom contacted City Hall, but was rebuffed.
So she started a petition drive and successfully got the street closed to through traffic.
And that was the beginning of Harriet Woods’s career in politics. She went from signature gatherer to City Councilwoman to State Senator to become the first woman to be elected and serve as Missouri’s Lieutenant Governor.
She was the inspiration behind the creation of Emily’s List which as a PAC and political organization has served as a powerhouse for pro-choice women seeking office at the state and federal level. However, this month, officials over at Emily’s List made a noted shift by endorsing four female mayoral candidates running in four of the largest cities in the U.S.
But Emily’s List is not the only group out there encouraging women to strike out for local office. Numerous political organizations including PACs, partisan and non-partisan groups and leadership training programs see an advantage to putting their resources, as well as their money, behind such women.
Whether it is a numbers game – women make up 51% of the U.S. population and hold less than 20% of elected offices in the U.S. and as of January 2012, of the 1,248 mayors of U.S. cities with populations of more than 30,000, there were 217, or 17.4% women in charge – or simply a strategy to see women move up from local positions of power to say, the White House, the momentum is there.
Non-Partisan PACs who support female candidates with a focus on the local level include the Women’s TAP Fund (Taking Action in Politics), the Southeastern Institute for Women in Politics and the Pennsylvania’s Women’s Campaign Fund.
Ruth’s List recruits and supports pro-choice democratic women with a focus on city council and county commissions as does the Democratic Women’s PAC of Maryland , Colorado’s Blue Flower Fund and the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy PAC.
There seems to be no republican equivalent to what democrats are doing on the local level. PACs committed to electing conservative and republican women tend to focus on candidates for State and Federal office, such as the Susan B. Anthony List, SHE-PAC (Support Honor Elect) and VIEW PAC (Value in Electing Women).
Leadership training programs which prepare women to run for political office have also been growing.
One group, Emerge America, which started out in 2002 with one office in the Bay area now has offices in 12 states. Emerge provides a training program including workshops on fundraising, messaging and technology for democratic women.
The Sue Shear Institute, based in St. Louis, at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL), is a non-partisan issue-neutral leadership training program to educate women on the need for leadership in public policy. Ready to Run, created by The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, is a national training and candidate recruitment program with the goal of electing more women to public office.
The National Federation of Republican Women runs a campaign management school to train republican women on how to effectively win elections through workshops dedicated to everything from fundraising to get out the vote activities.
She Should Run serves as a non-partisan clearinghouse of research and resources as well as an online tool with a mission to “dramatically increase the number of women in leadership positions.”
On the worldwide stage, the U.S. ranks 93rd out of 139 countries in the number of women in our national legislature and this year there are 1,781, or 24.1%, of the 7,383 U.S. state legislators that are women. Perhaps state and local have eclipsed national as the new focus.