Women Walked the Talk on Tuesday

November 10, 2017

The New York Times: Women Walked the Talk on Tuesday

By Elizabeth Williamson 

Back in January, when millions of fired-up women in pink pussy hats marched in Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago and scores of other places to protest the election of President Trump, Democrats wondered whether this could be the start of a movement, while Republicans hoped it was little more than a one-off explosion of rage.

On Tuesday came an answer. Across the country, from City Council to lieutenant governors’ races, female Democratic candidates notched impressive election victories.

“Everywhere I went, women who were activated by the loss last year, activated by the march in January, were out there knocking on doors. They got excited about these candidates, who were their neighbors,” says Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, a political action committee that recruits, supports and funds women who support abortion rights.

During the 2015 and 2016 cycles, about 920 women approached Emily’s List for help. It was the biggest surge of interest in the organization’s three decades, and Ms. Schriock and her staff called it the “Hillary Bump.” Hillary Clinton’s loss left every Democratic organization, not least Emily’s List, reeling and exhausted. Then, in the first month after the election, about a thousand women called and emailed, seeking advice or money for a stab at elective office. A year on, about 20,000 women have contacted the group, eyeing races years into the future. “First-time candidates are the vast, vast majority,” Ms. Schriock says. “This is the next decade of women coming up.”

Emily’s List endorsed 55 candidates nationwide for Tuesday’s races, and 33 of them won. So far, 13 of its 16 endorsed candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates have won (a couple of them may face runoffs.)

That so many women landed on ballots this year was remarkable, but their skills and organizing talent, not their gender, proved most persuasive. Most who won had strong roots in the jurisdictions they now represent. Careers in medicine, education, law, community organizing and other fields equipped them with ideas for tackling issues voters cared most about: health care, guns, criminal justice, opioid addiction.

In other words, they were the type of candidates who should run for Congress in 2018, if Democrats hope to make gains enough to put the brakes on Mr. Trump’s agenda.

Sheila Oliver, New Jersey’s first female African-American lieutenant governor, was between 2010 and 2014 its first black female assembly speaker. In 2011 she parted with fellow Democrats to join Gov. Chris Christie in backing an overhaul of benefits for public workers, arguing that the move, while unpopular, was financially unavoidable, and it was better to have a seat at the table.

Joyce Craig unseated an incumbent Republican, Ted Gatsas, to become the first female mayor in the 266-year history of Manchester, N.H. Ms. Craig was born in Manchester, where she served on the school board and as an alderman, authoring three city budgets. Yvonne Spicer, the new mayor of Framingham, Mass., is a political neophyte: A former schoolteacher, she is vice president of advocacy and educational partnerships at Boston’s Museum of Science. She beat John Stefanini, a longtime local pol, thanks to a desire among voters for a fresh face.

In Virginia Democrats made historic gains up and down the ticket. In Prince William County, Democrats ousted five of the six Republicans representing the county in the House of Delegates. Among the winners were Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala, who bested incumbent men to become Virginia’s first Latina delegates. Ms. Guzman has a background in social work, family and mental health services; she beat her Republican opponent, Scott Lingamfelter, with a strong door-to-door campaign that helped increase voter turnout by some 70 percent. Ms. Ayala, a 35-year resident of Prince William County, beat Rich Anderson, an incumbent whose seat Democrats didn’t even contest in 2015, delivering to Republicans one of the loudest wake-up calls of any of Tuesday’s races. She is a cybersecurity specialist at the Department of Homeland Security who helped organize the D.C. women’s march in January.

“This is not slowing down,” Ms. Schriock says. “It’s a moment that we’ve never seen before, and we’ve been waiting for it for 32 years.