21 Leaders for the 21st Century

21 Leaders 2012 - Seven Who Engender Ballots

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Profiles of seven outstanding women leaders dedicated to improving lives of women and girls: Siobhan "Sam" Bennett, Deedee Corradini, Mary Hughes, Kamala Lopez, Karen Middleton, Robin Read, Ann Stone

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Karen Middleton, Feeder of Electoral Pipeline

Patricia Middleton

Karen Middleton's goal is not modest: "To change the face of American politics."

What that means for her is to have more Democratic women in public office.

Women now comprise 23.6 percent of state legislators, down a bit from 2010, which in turn was down a bit from the previous year. As for the U.S. Congress, women hold 17 percent of the House and 17 percent of the Senate seats.

Bringing new energy to the battle, in 2010 Middleton took on the leadership role at Emerge America, an organization dedicated to changing those percentages by training Democratic women to run for office. Emerge offers an intensive, cohort-based seven-month training program that is very unique. They currently work in nine states, where they open new state programs and build capacity to train more women. To date, Emerge has trained over 800 Democratic women to run for office across the country.

Since she has taken the helm, Middleton has launched a national alumnae network, established a national Council of Allies, who are political campaign experts, and launched a new annual event that sold out. She has also formed numerous new national partnerships as a collaborator and is engaging directly with entities and individuals who are part of the larger political infrastructure to elect Democrats. Her ultimate goal is to train candidates who are targeted to win key elections that may change the balance of power in states, cities or school districts across the country.

"There is a pool of highly qualified Democratic candidates that are fully capable but are being left untapped. Too often, women do not see themselves running for office. They do not think they are experienced enough or they just do not know where to start," she says.

Before Middleton joined Emerge, she was an elected member of the Colorado state legislature and had served on Colorado's elected board of education. She was also a trainer for the White House Project and the Center for Progressive Leadership.

Middleton obtained her B.A. in women's studies and politics from Mount Holyoke College and her masters in political science from the University of Colorado. She grew up in Massachusetts and lived in Colorado for 18 years, but now resides in Danville, Calif.

To meet the challenges ahead, Middleton says she is eager to make strides now to ensure more women are represented in public office in the future.

"At the moment we are not seeing the needle move so we need to make our influence bigger and broader," she says.

--By Victoria Fitzgerald

Robin Read: Builder of Support Systems

Robin Read

Robin Read may be the only person to head an organization that includes Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and Gabrielle Giffords as members.

She is the president and CEO of the National Foundation for Women Legislators, the largest and oldest organization for elected women at all levels of government, with members from every state and U.S. territory. The foundation is a nonpartisan educational organization with a mission to provide strategic resources to female leaders and networking at both the state and federal levels.

"When I joined in 1992, they didn't have an office, not even a pencil," Read recalls, "and they said I'd have to raise my own salary." That was okay with her, she says, because she "had a passion for the foundation, for these elected women."

Since then, she has grown the foundation from a few members to an organization with over 2,000 members, including both current and former female elected public officials.

"I'm determined to be a support system for women as long as we can. When we have a woman leader it makes all the difference in the world," Read says.

Before taking on the foundation, Read served at the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. She is also an international spokesperson on leadership.

A graduate from the University of New Mexico, where she studied English and journalism, Read went on to host a radio show, as well as become a real estate broker and a developer and contractor. As she describes it, she had always worked in a "man's world." Her passion for women's rights was one that evolved over time.

In the late-1960s "I tried to get a JC Penny credit card, but couldn't because I didn't have a husband," she says. "I owned a car, my own house and my own businesses. It never occurred to me that we didn't have those rights. I wasn't a liberated woman until those years."

Read currently serves on the board of directors for the National Women's History Museum and the advisory boards for the Women's Information Network and RightNOW. She worked with the late Geraldine Ferraro as co-director of the International Political Institute for Women. Ferraro was the first woman to be nominated as a vice presidential candidate by a major party.

"I don't think I'll ever move away from this mission for women and girls all over the world. Women take care of everybody. You help a woman, she helps the world," she says.

--By Stephanie Yacenda

Ann Stone: Resister for Reproductive Choice

Ann Stone

Attention pro-choice Republicans: You are not alone.

Ann Stone is the founder and chair of Republicans for Choice, a political action committee formed in 1990 in response to the 1989 Supreme Court "Webster" decision, which came within one vote of overturning a woman's right to choose.

When Republican President George H. Bush took office in 1989, Stone couldn't help but ask, what was the party going to do about abortion? Certainly real Republicans should be against government involvement in this most personal decision, she thought. Stone quickly got her answer.

Stone organized her pro-choice committee and set out to locate and network pro-choice Republicans and to recruit like-minded candidates. She wanted the public to know if you care about this issue you have to look past the party label.

"I wasn't an activist for choice until then," Stone says, "but I believe a person's position on choice demonstrates those who trust and respect women and those who don't."

Stone would tell you that her life has been about promoting personal freedom and women's rights. She has been involved in political campaigns from the age of 12. In high school, her activism to end the racist policy of "red-lining" in her hometown of Stratford, Conn., which promoted under-the-table housing discrimination, drew the attention of, and a death threat from, the Ku Klux Klan. On a more personal note, her sister, 18 years her senior, became a victim of domestic violence when Stone was very young. Witnessing that violence and abuse had a profound impact on her and cemented her dedication to promoting women's rights.

As the pro-choice committee's public figure, she recalls being "verbally savaged by people, friends and colleagues. "I even received death threats," she says. But the heat does not deter her. She is determined to keep the pressure on until Republicans have a platform that truly matches what the average Republican believes: that the individual should have maximum control over their lives.

Stone is also one of the three original incorporators of the National Women's History Museum. She played a significant role in the museum's campaign to pass legislation to move the "Portrait Monument," the statue given by the suffragists to Congress to celebrate the 19th Amendment, from the basement of the Capitol to its Rotunda.

Stone attended George Washington University and during her junior year was elected president of the College Republicans. She is also the founder and president of The Stone Group, Inc., an award-winning direct marketing business; the president of Overlook Foundation; and chairwoman emeritus at Empowered Women International, where she continues to serve on the organization's board.

"All the work I have been involved in on behalf of women has been building to this moment in history . . . I truly believe the time for women has come. I feel a shift," she says.

--By Stephanie Yacenda Subscribe

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The majority of the women named as leaders are fabulous. I must, however, take exception with one of the women, Robin Read. Both she and her organization are beholden to the large corporations who fund the programs of NFWL. The workshops are sponsored by corporations that want to influence policymakers in the area that is the focus of the workshop. For example, a workshop on Artic drilling that I attended as a state legislator was sponsored by an organization that is comprised of big oil companies. As you may imagine the presentation was very biased towards drilling in the Arctic. I am very supportive of womens enews and appreciate the excellent information provided so was very concerned to see this individual included.

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