Dan Lawlor: Can we Please Elect More Women to Office?
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Contrary to what commentators like Travis Rowley have said, the local Republican Party has been most successful in recent years when it has been a liberal, good-government organization. The local Republicans are best when they are pushing for clean-government initiatives, protecting the environment, fiscal conservatism, and standing against individual discrimination.
Time and again we hear that Democrats have controlled the Assembly for 70 years. That means that for 70 years the Republicans have been unable to field enough candidates attractive and competitive with enough voters. There are many people in Rhode Island who are not in the inner power circles, who are not connected to the machine. The Republicans, and all the parties in the state, are missing out by not doing more community work to engage independents, many who are angry, aloof, cynical, or uninterested in politics.
Look at most city councils across the state. Look at the General Assembly. There are few women (despite making up half the population!), few African-Americans, hardly any Asians, few Latinos, and few Natives. Does our government really reflect who we are as a state? While Chafee has certainly increased the number of female appointees within state government, most of the big departments are still headed by a group of male "old school" insiders - Steven Costantino (former House Finance chair), Charles Fogarty (former Lt. Governor), and Richard Licht (former Lt. Governor). One of the outside appointees is Michael Lewis, who was fired from Boston's Big Dig.
The local Republican Party had its most recent state-wide successes in the 1980s and early 1990s. What kind of party was it? One that was open to Moderates and Progressives.
Think about it. John Chafee, former Secretary of the Navy, environmental activist, and longtime, respected US Senator. Ron Machtley, now president of Bryant University. Moderate Republicanism, the Republicanism of Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, John Danforth, and John Chafee, was attractive, and won elections - in Rhode Island!
In terms of "firsts for women," the RI Republican party of the 1980s and early 1990s provided ample opportunities for talented, female candidates to challenge and win against the all-male Democratic Machine.
The list of female Republican office holders from the time is astonishing: In 1980, Claudine Schneider became Rhode Island's first (and so far only) female US Representative. In 1982, Susan Farmer became the first RI female Secretary of State. In 1984, Arlene Violet became the first RI female Attorney General. In 1992, Mary Ross became the first black female Republican State Representative, and in 1993, Nancy Mayer became the first RI female Treasurer, and Barbara Leonard was elected the third female Secretary of State (In 1987, Kathleen Connell became the first female Democrat elected Secretary of State).
As Scott McKay wrote in 2010, "Rhode Island’s Democratic Party has a truly shameful history when it comes to promoting women for high statewide or federal office."
Here's the truth. When Rowley or other Republican leaders want their party to become more pure, to kick out progressives and moderates, they are casting a spell for statewide failure. Occasionally, they might win a general or city office- consider Carcieri or Laffey- but not multiple ones. At the of the day, the record of Moderate Republicanism speaks for itself. Moderate, inclusive, good government Republicanism won multiple statewide offices - from US Senate to State Treasurer.
Even in the aftermath of the disastrous Republican Governor Edward Diprete, Nancy Mayer and Barbara Leonard were successful when running as moderate, state-wide "good government" Republicans. How many Republican Tea Party Statewide Office Holders has Rhode Island elected?
In recent years, female Republican candidates for statewide office included Sue Stenhouse in 2006 and Catherine Taylor in 2010, both for Secretary of State, both losing to A Ralph Mollis. In 2010, Heidi Roger defeated Kara Russo in the Lt Governor's Republican primary race, but then bowed out to endorse Cool Moose candidate Bob Healey, who was running on a campaign to abolish the office of Lt. Governor.
I'm willing to bet the far right tilt of the national Republican party has not exactly helped local Republicans win for office. A strong stand for Moderate (or, gasp, even liberal) Republicanism might actually result in winning more seats and state wide offices again.
We need Diversity
Both the Democratic and Republican Parties are at their best when they are open to the maximum number of people.
Rhode Island Republicans do not need to mimic the Arizona Republican Party. Rhode Island Democrats do not need to be a mostly middle aged, male hang out group.
Now, to the Democrats' credit, Myrth York was a long-time nominee for Governor, Gina Raimondo is the state treasurer, Elizabeth Roberts is Lt. Governor, and Teresa Paiva Weed is the Senate President. For the Republicans, Ann Clanton is the State Party's Executive Director. For both parties, that's good, but not enough.
By not having space for half the population to participate in government, our state is worse off. By seeking ideological purity, our parties are worse off. The Greens, Moderates and Libertarian parties, alongside growing independents, are signs people are frustrated with the status quo. Our political parties should engage the maximum number of people, with a larger oppositions holding the majority party accountable. We need more diversity, more female involvement, and more candidates - the results might be positively surprising.
Let's try a different way.
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