KUNM

Trump's Election Drives More Women To Consider Running For Office

Feb 23, 2017
Originally published on February 24, 2017 2:46 pm

Will the election of Donald Trump, who once boasted of grabbing women by the genitalia and has a history of sexist remarks, create a wave of female candidates at all levels of government in the coming years?

Early signs from the groups that work with women considering a bid for office suggest a level of intense interest not seen in at least a quarter century.

Kate Noble had never considered getting involved in politics until she woke up the day after Trump's surprise victory over Hillary Clinton.

Noble worked for years in the economic development office of Santa Fe, N.M., and she believes a good workforce depends on well-educated citizens, so she decided to run for a local school board seat.

Her political philosophy is distinctly un-Trumpian: "I want to be someone who can bring forward anybody's and everybody's good ideas. They don't need to be my own."

The interest in running for office comes as women are still far from having anywhere close to proportionate representation at any level of government. In Congress, about 20 percent of lawmakers are women, while in statehouses, about 25 percent of lawmakers are women.

In Noble's case, she contacted the New Mexico branch of Emerge, a group that trains Democratic women to run for office. She ended up running unopposed and won.

A Trump bump

It turns out Noble wasn't the only woman to wake up with the same idea after the election.

"We saw an immediate uptick in interest in our work," said Andrea Dew Steele, the president and founder of Emerge America. "And it has persisted through today. It's unlike anything we've ever seen."

Applications for the group's training sessions increased 87 percent after Election Day, Steele said.

"Some of it is absolutely a reaction to President Trump and his policies," said Jean Sinzdak, of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "For others, it is Hillary Clinton's loss," because the fact that we don't have a female president "sort of woke them up to the idea that maybe we haven't made as much progress as we thought."

Sinzdak oversees the university's nonpartisan New Jersey training program, Ready to Run, which also has affiliates nationwide. Ready to Run is experiencing its own Trump bump with more than 50 women signing up immediately after Election Day. This year's program is already at capacity, which Sinzdak, who has been running the program for 12 years, says typically doesn't happen until March. The program has been expanded to accommodate up to 50 extra people.

Both Steele and Sinzdak say the interest they're seeing from women who want to run for office reminds them of what they saw in the early 1990s following the Anita Hill hearings. Hill had accused then-Supreme Court nominee, now Justice, Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

After those hearings, Sinzdak said, "We did have an increase in the numbers of women running for office and we saw a big jump in the number of women who ran for and won election to Congress."

Local and state offices

While Trump became president without ever running for another office, most people get their start in politics the way Noble is, by running for local office.

"I don't think people realize that a lot of the decisions that are made that affect their daily lives happen at the local and state levels," said Ashley Sanderson, the executive director of Emerge New Mexico.

But a surge in interest in running for office might not translate into women actually running for office, said Rachel Michelin, executive director of the nonpartisan training group California Women Lead, pointing to 2012 as a year that was supposed to be good for female candidates in California.

"We had open seats. We just had redistricting in California. It was a presidential election. So we thought we would see this big surge of women getting elected," she said. "What happened, though, was we just didn't have enough women running."

That's where groups like California Women Lead, Emerge America and Ready to Run come in to help guide women from signing up for a training program to actually running for office. Steele, of Emerge America, believes this latest burst of enthusiasm is different from past years and she's confident that more women will actually run in 2018.

"The biggest challenge for us is getting more women interested in running," said Steele. "So the fact that women are self-nominating, are waking up and saying 'I want to do this,' is the biggest, most hopeful sign that I've seen definitely since the Anita Hill hearings."

As for Noble, she says she's already learned a lot by running for office.

"I have really liked listening to people, working on ideas, having people listening to me." She says the school board campaign was a good test run for future campaigns. "I'm so energized."

Copyright 2017 KQED Public Media. To see more, visit KQED Public Media.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The day following President Trump's inauguration, millions of people, mostly women, took to the streets to protest. And after it was over, the question was, what's next? Groups that coach women to run for political office say they've seen a spike in requests for information and training. From member station KUNM in Albuquerque, Megan Kamerick has the story of one woman inspired to enter politics.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yay, I'm so excited that you're...

MEGAN KAMERICK, BYLINE: It's a chilly winter evening in Santa Fe, N.M., and a handful of people are gathering in a school library to hear Kate Noble talk about why she wants to run for the Santa Fe Public Schools Board.

KATE NOBLE: I want to be someone who can bring forward anybody and everybody's good ideas. They don't need to be my own.

KAMERICK: Over the next two hours, she listens to numerous concerns, including one from the school's PTA president, April Gallegos, about parent engagement.

APRIL GALLEGOS: So I'm curious to know what kind of ideas you might have to increase that.

KAMERICK: Noble pauses for a minute and then says...

NOBLE: I'm very wary of the model where somebody running for office should have all the answers because I actually think it's a faulty model. They shouldn't and that our role should be to ask people who know better and listen.

KAMERICK: This exchange reflects Noble's ideas about how women approach politics differently.

NOBLE: How do women look in leadership roles? Maybe it's not as gruff and authoritarian. It's more collaborative. It's more honest.

KAMERICK: Noble worked for years in Santa Fe's Economic Development Department, and she understands a good workforce depends on education. But she never considered jumping into politics until she woke up the day after Donald Trump's election. To get started, she contacted the New Mexico branch of Emerge. That's a group that trains Democratic women to run for office. Ashley Sanderson, executive director for Emerge New Mexico, says interest in the group's trainings are at an all-time high.

ASHLEY SANDERSON: I think after the election, a lot of people, a lot of women especially, are motivated to get more involved. And so a lot of them want to make a difference where they can.

KAMERICK: Whereas Donald Trump's first elected office was president, that's not how it works for most people. Sanderson says women are often the ones showing up for local community forums and school board meetings.

SANDERSON: I don't think that people realize that a lot of the decisions that are made that affect their daily lives happen at the local and state levels.

KAMERICK: Sanderson says women are getting more involved, but they need to pick up the pace. Otherwise, she says it will take hundreds of years to reach equal representation. But history shows that pace can be accelerated. For instance, Professor Lonna Atkeson of the University of New Mexico points out a watershed moment in the early 1990s. That was Anita Hill's testimony against Clarence Thomas.

LONNA ATKESON: We had this steady increase in percentage of women elected to state legislatures. It really went up dramatically.

KAMERICK: But since then, the needle hasn't moved much. Women still just make up about 25 percent of state legislatures. And Atkeson says their absence means priorities are different.

ATKESON: Women candidates tend to come from education backgrounds, not from business backgrounds. And so that's a very different perspective on public policy.

(CROSSTALK)

KAMERICK: On the day Santa Fe voted for school board, Kate Noble attended a watch party at the Cowgirl Barbecue, a restaurant and pool hall.

(CROSSTALK)

KAMERICK: Noble ended up winning her election. Actually, she ran unopposed. But she says she learned a lot.

NOBLE: I have really liked listening to people, working on ideas, having people listen to me, and I'm really excited to do this. I'm so energized.

KAMERICK: And, she adds, it was a good test drive for future political campaigns. For NPR News, I'm Megan Kamerick in Santa Fe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.