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A Record-Setting Year
for Women in Politics

Jean Sinzdak
By Jean Sinzdak
Center for American Women
and Politics (CWAP)

Women sitting at a conference table
So what's the reason for this boost in women running for a seat in the State House? As Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) puts it, "This is a classic example of preparedness meeting opportunity."

Last November, a record number of women won election to the New Jersey Legislature. The new class of lawmakers sworn in on January 8 in Trenton included 34 women among its 120 members (9 women in the Senate and 25 in the Assembly). New Jersey is now in a tie with California and Connecticut for 15th place nationally for the proportion of women serving in its state legislature. This is a remarkable turn of events for the Garden State; as recently as 2004, New Jersey ranked an embarrassing 43rd.

And the good news doesn’t stop there. Of the 34 women legislators sworn in this year, 14 are women of color, the largest number of women of color to serve at one time. Ten of those women are African American and four are Latinas (new records for each respective group). And Teresa Ruiz became the first Latina elected to the state Senate.

The election results aren’t the only new records—the women who were elected came from a record number of women candidates for the legislature. A total of 59 women ran in the 2007 general election (17 for the Senate and 42 for the Assembly).

So what’s the reason for this boost in women running for a seat in the State House? As Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) puts it, “This is a classic example of preparedness meeting opportunity. When open seats became available, women were ready to run.” Many open legislative seats were created by resignations or retirements; party leaders took advantage of these opportunities to add women to their slates, something that happened only rarely in the past. And as Walsh notes, almost a quarter of the women legislators elected this year participated in CAWP’s Ready to Run™ Campaign Training for Women, a bipartisan program to encourage more women to run for office and train them to launch campaigns. The program’s success goes well beyond the legislature: over a quarter of the women who have attended a Ready to Run™ program have run for elected office of some kind, and 70 percent of those won their races. While the 2007 elections marked a remarkable step forward for women running for legislative seats, more women should be prepared to seize opportunities as they arise—at every level of office.

CAWP will host its tenth annual Ready to Run™ on March 15th at the Douglass Campus Center, Rutgers-New Brunswick. Ready to Run™ features two tracks: “I’m Ready to Run, Now What?” and “I’m Not Ready to Run Yet, But...” The first track, targeted at those women who are ready to run for office within the next year or so, will feature interactive workshops which cover the fundamentals of launching an effective campaign and navigating the political parties as a potential candidate. The second track’s sessions will cover topics such as positioning yourself for future office, getting appointed to boards or commissions, getting involved in the political parties, and turning advocacy experience into political experience. Participants in both tracks will participate in media training and fundraising sessions.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Comcast Foundation, a travel subsidy and scholarship program is available for participants who must travel a distance to attend the program in New Brunswick or for those who need to stay overnight to attend both the Friday and Saturday sessions. The travel subsidy and scholarship program are designed to encourage women from the farther reaches of the state, particularly the southern region, to attend.

In addition, to address the need to get more women of color in elected office, for the second year CAWP offers an initiative designed to attract diverse groups of women into the political process and encourage them to seek public office. Supported in part by a generous grant from The Fund for New Jersey, the Diversity Initiative comprises three separate projects designed for Latinas, African American, and Asian American women interested in public leadership. CAWP has partnered with steering committees to host three separate pre-conference programs: Elección Latina; Rising Stars: Educating Asian American Women for Politics; and Run Sister Run: Women of the African Diaspora Changing the Political Landscape. The pre-conference programs will be held on Friday, March 14. Participants in the pre-conference programs will attend Ready to Run™ the following day to learn the nuts and bolts of launching a campaign.

Spread the word to colleagues and friends about this important program and its special preconference programs for women of color. For more details or to register, visit www.cawp.rutgers.edu. Questions? Contact Jean Sinzdak at (732) 932- 9384, ext 260 or sinzdak@rci.rutgers.edu.


 

 

 

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