Women in the House: Tammy Duckworth (and her baby) Make Way for Equal Representation

Women in the House: Tammy Duckworth (and her baby) Make Way for Equal Representation April 24, 2018

It’s a good week for girls.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth was already killing it as the first woman to give birth while serving as a U.S. Senator. And then—she marched that baby right onto the Senate floor and cast a vote. WITH her baby.

Wait, how is that possible? Shouldn’t she be like … in quarantine or something?

We can joke all we want. But let’s not forget the viral image from just a few months ago of a conference room— full of white men—signing a significant piece of legislation about women’s reproductive rights. This is where we are. It also bears mentioning that it is 2018 and Sen. Duckworth is still one of only 23 women senators out of 100 serving our country. Do that math. And then factor in the reality that the grand total of women to serve in the Senate, historically, is 52. EVER. Do that math some more. Now consider that there are 83 women in Congress at the moment—making them still less than 20 percent of the full House.

We’ve got a long way to go.

The significance of Tammy Duckworth bringing a baby to a major legislative session is more than symbolic. In order for her to cast a vote with infant-in-arms, concessions had to be made. The Senate Rules Committee had to change some actual … well, rules, to allow for simultaneous parenting and governing. This rule change was accepted unanimously. When was the last time you heard that u-word thrown about in conjunction with U.S. politics?

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois

Duckworth’s vote was not just an exercise in tokenism. It marks a moment of real systemic change that will make the highest levels of government accessible to more women. And we need more women in Washington. Period.

We are woefully underrepresented, and it hurts us in every area of public life—from healthcare to equal pay, with a lot of not-so-small nuances in between. If that’s going to change, we need balance in high levels of leadership. At our current rate of progress, statistics say we’re about 50 or 60 years out from having equal voice in government.

Not to be morose, but how many of us will live that long?

Call me pushy, but I’m not about waiting 50 years—the rest of my life if I’m lucky, and a sizeable portion of my daughter’s as well—to be equally represented in a system that governs everything from the air we breathe to the wars we fight. (And you’d better believe we’d fight less wars if women were in charge. Because science). There will never be full equality until there is equal representation. Women will not have equal pay, safety from sexual violence, quality healthcare, secure futures or a balanced education until we have full voice in the infrastructure. So miss me with the incremental changes.

A small step here and there is not enough any more. We want to see big leaps forward. Making it easier for women to govern while nursing is a good start. Now, as we’d say if Aaron Sorkin was writing this script: what’s next?

For one thing, start supporting women in your local and state elections, and I mean right now. Tomorrow. If you’re like most voting Americans (and ‘voting’ Americans are still only about half of Americans), then you kind of take a chill seat and wait to see who wins your primary, and then you vote your party. That’s not enough any more. Find promising, quality, electable candidates in your field, and get out there and help them stay in the field. The system, on both sides of the aisle, is tilted towards the straight white guys. If you don’t get behind the women early, they won’t make it to the final round.

And hear me say this—most of the women I’m about to name here as people to watch/support, happen to be Democrats. And hell, it’s not my fault that the GOP has pretty much rendered itself a chick-free zone for the foreseeable future. But there ARE quality Republican women candidates out there, and if you can find them, then by all means, get out there and get behind them. Full equality means women on both sides of the aisle. (Provided that a certain ‘aisle’ does not fail to repopulate itself, which is not an outside thing at this point.)

Anyway. Whatever your party, find your women and get them out front. Having equal and balanced representation is good for women AND men. If you want to know why, buy my book. Or ask your mom.

Meanwhile, here are some women to throw your money and your volunteer hours behind:

• If you are in the Kansas 3rd, check out Sharice Davids for Congress. Former White House Fellow, Cornell Law School grad, Native American, and daughter of a single mom Army veteran … she is the real deal. I’ve met her (and her mama!) and I am expecting great things. Bonus: Who doesn’t want to see Kevin Yoder get his ass handed to him by a girl?

• In the south, check out Alabama District 3 candidate Tabitha Isner. That’s REV. Tabitha, for anyone who’s asking. (She and her husband are both DOC clergy colleagues of mine). She’s got all kinds of impressive endorsements, and a killer ad that says “Send This Foster Mom to Congress.”

• In my old Kentucky home, there is a lot of buzz around Lt. Col. Amy McGrath. Military officer, fighter pilot, mother of 3 … with an master’s degree in international/global security from Johns Hopkins … no big deal. Except it is a BIG F’N DEAL, made even bigger by the fact that she is running in Mitch McConnell country. If she can make it there, she can make it anywhere. Maybe even the White House. Go get her back, Bluegrass.

• Arizona-8 is an interesting field in the desert right now: Two female candidates! Better yet—two women running for the seat left vacant by Rep. Trent Franks’ textbook sex scandal resignation (that is so fun to say). Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, Democrat, is a physician running on a platform of healthcare access; and Republican Debbie Lesko wants to talk seriously about domestic violence, having left an abusive husband 25 years ago. I may not agree with her politics, but this is just one example of how having more women in the field will draw attention (and action) towards issues that get overlooked in the boys’ club. The special election is TODAY, April 24. It’s one worth watching.

Who’s on your radar? Primary season is just starting and, not for nothing, a certain Tweeter in Chief has already started campaigning for 2020. I’d love to see a woman—or rather, a sea of women—take his place. This is about much more than the optics of just having more women in the room. Getting more women in places of significant power will be a big swing towards equality, in a time when the current administration works hard to set us back by miles.

So go find your woman and back her up. Here are a few more who I’m not as familiar with … but if they are in your hood, read up. And get out there.

Cary Kennedy for Governor, Colorado

Vanessa Adia, Texas District 12

Dee Thornton, Indiana District 5

Lauren Friedman, Ohio Senate District 29

And a long list of Kansas women running at the state level:

Aidan Loveland Koster

Deann Mitchell

Laura Smith-Everett

Beckie Jenek
Kim Thomas
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