Progress for women trying to enter New Jersey’s political arena has been long stalled. A woman has not represented the Garden State in Congress in 11 years. Bonnie Watson Coleman is running to take over Rush Holt’s seat in the 12th District and if she wins, she would make history as the first African-American woman ever to represent New Jersey in Washington. Rutgers University Eagleton Institute of Politics Center for American Women & Politics Director Debbie Walsh told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that women bring a different perspective to politics and their voices need to be heard in Congress.
Walsh said that the race in the 12th District is a woman running against a woman since Watson Coleman is running against Alieta Eck, so either way a woman will be representing New Jersey. She said that from her research, women bring different perspectives and different life experiences to the making of public policy and those voices need to be heard in Congress. She said that there are no women in the congressional delegation and it suffers because of that.
There has not been a woman in the congressional delegation since 2003. New Jersey’s legislative rank is 10th in the nation, which is a huge improvement because for many years the state ranked 43rd in the nation. New Jersey went from being in the bottom 10 to the top 10. Walsh said that happened for a number of reasons, including an increased focus on the issue of women’s representation in government and politics, and the Center for American Women & Politics has been part of that.
Walsh said that the center has been running a program called Ready to Run, a non-partisan campaign training program for women, and that a number of the women who are in the New Jersey legislature have been through the program. She said that she thinks that emphasis has really raised the issue of women in politics and government and she thinks the men who control so much of politics have taken some note of that and when they have had some opportunities to put women in office, they have picked women to replace some men.
Walsh said that there have been five women who have represented New Jersey in the congressional district and all of those women have gotten there on their own.
It has traditionally been harder to get campaign money for women than it is for men and when asked if that has changed, Walsh said when they ask women, they overwhelming say that it is hard for them to get money but she said that she does know that women raise comparable amounts of money to men when they run in comparable races. She said that the hard part is that they tend to raise that money in smaller donations so it is harder to raise the same amount of money. One of the reasons Walsh thinks that happens is because women come from networks that are less monied. They are often not in business, they may not be attorneys and they oftentimes are teachers, social workers and nurses.
Walsh said that Hillary Clinton helps if not in the year that she may run for president but in years following. She said that depending on how Clinton does if she runs, it would make women’s leadership publicly visible and also helps inspire more women to think about running for office. Walsh said that what she finds is that women do not have the same kind of role models that men do.
Walsh said that the center has started a new initiative to help young girls, starting in kindergarten, to think about and see women as public leaders so that they can dream and aspire to those positions.
“We need to make sure that women see women as public leaders,” said Walsh.