(WOMENSENEWS)–This is the time during presidential election years when the punditocracy cranks up to full tilt in a “guess who’ll be Secretary-of-This-or-That” game. Almost all the players are men–both on the guessing side and the anointed potential appointee side. A few token women are mentioned, just so the lists won’t look like a wonky version of a National Football League roster. A recent New York Times article floated 57 potential names for posts in a Bush or Gore administration–only seven of them were female.
If national women’s groups have anything to do with it, these all-guy prognostications won’t come true. On October 31, the Women’s Appointments Project was kicked off in Washington. A joint venture between the National Women’s Political Caucus and the National Council of Women’s Organizations, the project will push the resumes of qualified women for appointments in the new administration, regardless of which party wins the White House.
When it comes to appointments, most people think of the cabinet first, and then the Supreme Court if there’s a vacancy (currently there is none). The Women’s Appointments Project intends to go much deeper.
“There are positions in every department of government that are not sexy or high-profile, but nevertheless very important,” says Roselyn O’Connell, president of the National Women’s Political Caucus. “Qualified women in those slots can make a difference in government policies for the next four years.”
She’s right. For one thing, our nominees will be pro-choice, a bedrock principle of both organizations. That fact alone has implications for successful nominees’ impact on the State Department (international family planning policy), Health and Human Services (Medicaid policy, clinic funding) and the Department of Education (funds for medically accurate sexuality education).
Appointments Project About Leadership, Not Abortion Politics
That said, the project is not about abortion politics–it’s about women’s leadership up and down the line. Women’s groups from many sectors will head task forces to place women in all departments of government, from Agriculture to Veteran’s Affairs. Names for cabinet secretaries will be promoted, but so will those for undersecretaries, general counsels, communication specialists and policy analysts.
Bush the senior appointed 181 women out of 903 appointees, or 20 percent. The Clinton administration has about 2,160 political appointees, including 592 women, or 27.4 percent, according to Beth Kanter, director of media relations for the National Women’s Political Caucus in Washington. The next administration should do even better.
(See the project’s fact sheet on women appointees for more information: http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm?aid=331&mode=today.)
Barbara Lee, President of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, the sponsoring partner, puts it this way: “Our hope is that this will have a real impact in providing role models. I am personally committed to promoting women leaders today and inspiring the next generation.”
They say you cannot become something until you can imagine it. Lee is dedicated to the idea that girls should imagine themselves in top leadership, right along with boys.
Both presidential nominees have aggressively courted the women’s vote and it is clear women will decide the outcome of the election.
But will the new President love us in the morning and listen when women’s names are put forward for high positions? Al Gore says he will. In a congratulatory letter to the Women’s Appointments Project co-chairs, he borrowed a page from the Clinton book and promised to once again appoint a government that “looks like America.”
The Bush campaign did not acknowledge the project announcement, and so far has been mum on intentions toward women appointees, let alone pro-choice women. But his record in Texas is not too bad: Out of 4,054 appointments, 1,328 are female–one third. Their positions on choice are not known, however.
Women Still Need to Push for Their Fair Share
It is amazing that at the dawn of the 21st century, women still must push for a fair share of seats at the table. But push we must. Even President Clinton, who appointed the highest number of female cabinet members in history, only did so after the “feminist bean counters” complained that all of his early appointments were male. Groups participating in the Women’s Appointments Project don’t mind being called “bean counters”–it’s one way to make sure more qualified women are also called “appointees.”
Martha Burk is chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, a coalition of 110 groups, collectively representing over 6 million women. She is co-founder and president of the Center for the Advancement of Public Policy.