Women in politics

Forum looks at how-to’s of campaigning

The meeting room at the Chico branch of the Butte County Library was abuzz on an otherwise quiet Martin Luther King Jr. Day as more than 40 women—and one man—met to discuss women’s empowerment.

The occasion was “Run Women Run!": a forum hosted by Women Organized to Win, a local nonpartisan group focused on encouraging women to enter politics—a particularly apt subject at a time when a woman is running a historic candidacy for president.

The audience Monday (Jan. 21) ranged in age from 21-year-old Whitney Grayhorse, who has served on several student environmental committees at Butte College, to retired politicians in their mid-80s.

A workshop by the National Women’s Political Caucus, a group that supports women candidates, followed a panel discussion with several figures currently involved in local politics. They included Chico City Councilwoman Mary Flynn, Chico school board member Kathy Kaiser and two Butte County supervisors, Jane Dolan and Maureen Kirk.

The politicians shared some of the challenges they overcame when they ran for office and some of their rookie mistakes. Some of them had doubts about having enough experience the first time they ran. For others, entering the political arena was a natural progression from lives already dedicated to public service.

The biggest challenge for all of them: the nuts and bolts of how to run a campaign.

A handful of women who attended the session are in the process of running for office, some for the first time. One was Robin Huffman, who’s running for the county supervisor seat from the Paradise area. Another was Paradise resident Judith Peters, who’s running for her school board. Thil Wilcox, who’s running for the Oroville City Council, also attended.

WOW co-founder Geri Benedict said a workshop like this would have been helpful when she first got involved in public service 19 years ago.

“I learned from the college of hard knocks,” she said.

Kaiser shared that before running for the school board in 2006, the only time she had campaigned was for president of her high school class, when she used the slogan, “Be wiser—vote for Kaiser.”

Several audience members expressed anxiety over the stereotypes female politicians often face in the media and in public debates: that they are flighty, disorganized, too emotional and unqualified. This self-doubt triggered reproach from some of the panel members.

“Don’t let them put you in that box,” Kaiser declared.

Women are often more focused than men on making changes for the good of the community, rather than for their personal agendas, WOW President Beverly Robertson later said in a phone interview. Many of the women on the panel and in the audience said discontent with the current system was their main reason for getting involved in politics.

“I’ve been involved in campaigns since I got pissed off,” one attendee said.

Some people get into politics because they “want to be somebody,” while others “want to do something,” Dolan said. The seven-term supervisor considers herself part of the latter group.

The NWPC provided packets that are essentially how-to books for campaigning. Tips range from how to fundraise to how to market oneself to voters. Attendees, the rookies especially, expressed that the workshop was invaluable for showing them how to get started.

All of the female panelists agreed that women had just as much right to be on committees as men and that more should run since women are underrepresented in the political arena.

It is NWPC’s goal that by 2020—the centennial of women’s suffrage—half the people in government will be women. The 2008 presidential race has been an encouraging sign that women will someday have equal representation.

“I didn’t think I’d live long enough to see a woman running for president,” said Robertson, who is 80 years old. “I’m just tickled that there is a woman candidate.”