LOS ANGELES, August 14–Women at the Democratic National Convention still get steamed up because female candidates such as Judith Valles, a teacher in her 60s who spent $20,000 of her own money to run, still endure jibes and insults from the “old boys network.”
“The old boys said, ‘What do you know? You’re just a school teacher and you’re Mexican,'” said Valles. She had the last laugh, however, when she was elected mayor of San Bernardino in 1998–by a landslide. The old boys stopped laughing.
Despite the fact that more women than ever hold elected office, their numbers are still woefully low because of the double whammy obstacles of sex bias and lack of campaign funds, said women attending the Democratic Women’s Caucus of the Democratic National Convention here on Monday.
Mayor Valles and other Democratic leaders, including Sen. Blanche Lambert-Lincoln of Arkansas, Gov. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, spoke at the first of a series of daily caucus meetings, each one focusing on key issues for Democratic women.
“I think the numbers are absolutely appalling,” said Carole Black, president of Lifetime Television. Women represent 52 percent of the population, she said, but are just 6 percent of the nation’s governors, 9 percent of the Senate and 13 percent of the House of Representatives.
“How representative is that?” Black asked, “Not very.”
“We must elect more women because when women get elected what they do in office is what they do in life–they look out for everybody else,” she said.
Despite the low numbers and high odds, the women addressing the caucus vowed to press ahead and preserve the gains they already have made on the issues of equal rights, education, early childcare, gun safety, welfare reform and abortion rights.
“We are not going back,” First Lady Hillary Clinton told the caucus. “We are not going to be quiet. We intend to take our rightful places at the table where every decision is made.”
Democratic women say they realize the problems of sexism and lack of campaign funds are not new, but they are working on new strategies to put more women in the pipeline to power.
The Internet could help short-circuit women’s problems with pulling in campaign money and overcoming sexist bias, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards said.
“Get on the Internet and e-mail every woman you know,” she said. “Get your message together and get it on the net.”
“The Internet is a powerful medium for raising money,” U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin told another convention forum on women and the Internet. “Other contributions are motivated by asking for money, so these website contributions are from the heart. Many websites are grassroots-oriented, and you can gear the website towards fundraising.”
Mayor Valles, like many women leaders here, also emphasized the importance of women getting into politics at the local level, although she believes this is more difficult for women than for men.
“It’s a tough decision because women are raising kids and we want to put our families first,” Valles said. “And when we do get into political office, our whole family suffers.”
She said it is more difficult for women to ask for money, but they have to get over it.
“For me it was hard because I am independent and I didn’t want to go out and ask for money,” Valles said. She had to use her own money at first, she said, and then she held fundraisers to repay herself.
“The good ol’ boys are alive and well, and it won’t be until some good ol’ girls get in there that we can stir up the pot,” Valles said. “If I can do it at age 66, you can too.”
Jeannine Yeomans is a free-lance writer, television correspondent and producer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.