Apparently, the combination of Hillary Clinton’s unexpected loss and the genital grabber-in-chief’s surprising win has motivated more women to explore running for office than at any time since 1992. Of course, 1992 was dubbed the Year of the Woman because Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California, Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, and Patty Murray of Washington were all elected to the U.S. Senate. Prior to that election, the only two women in the Senate were Democrat Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Republican Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas.
This doesn’t seem like much to talk about in retrospect, but it was a big deal at the time, and the narrative revolved around an alleged backlash against the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings that had taken place the year before. At least in Patty Murray’s case, the hearings may have provided her impetus to run.
According to Jean Sinzdak, of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, there was a more general uptick of women who ran for office in 1992, and this is the first time since then that she’s seen a comparable level of interest.
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 [Andrea Dew] Steele [the president and founder of Emerge America] 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.”
Today, there are 21 women in the Senate, including four freshmen (all Democrats) who were elected last November. That’s quite a departure from the two women who served in the Senate at the time of Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings.
If Trump provides a similar bump, we could see rough gender parity in the Senate a quarter century from now.
Of course, it’s the lower offices that feed the federal and statewide ones, so the mechanism of eventual gender parity in the Senate will be driven by the women who are joining training programs today to prepare them for new political careers.
I’ve been a little pessimistic lately, so I hope this prospect cheers you up.