advertisement
advertisement

Six women running for election today on changing the face of politics

The demographics of U.S. Congress may not change drastically today, but these women have moved the goalposts.

Six women running for election today on changing the face of politics
[Photo: Blend Images /Hill Street Studios/Getty Images]

This election cycle, a record number of women are running for office, many of them as an act of resistance to the misogyny of the Trump presidency. Women have won an unprecedented number of primary races, with 272 of the 964 candidates running for political office in today’s election are women, and 216 are black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American or multiracial, in fact only 58% of candidates are white men. That’s why some have dubbed 2018 the “Year of the Woman,” echoing the moniker given to the year 1992, which saw a surge in female candidates after Clarence Thomas’s controversial confirmation to the Supreme Court.

advertisement
advertisement

“Everyone keeps trying to define this political moment,” says Liuba Grechen Shirley, who is the Democratic nominee in New York’s 2nd congressional district. “And yes, there are a lot of women who are running across the country. But I think what’s more exciting about what’s happening this year is that there are more everyday, average Americans (running for office).”

It’s possible the demographics of Congress won’t change dramatically after today’s election—many of the women vying for seats in Congress or in gubernatorial races have stiff competition—but in running and winning primaries, these women have quite literally changed the face of politics. We talked to six women running for office across the country about how they make themselves relatable to constituents who are used to seeing white men in positions of power, and how their background has influenced their platforms.

Liuba Grechen Shirley, candidate in New York’s 2nd congressional district

On being relatable:

I’ve never thought about how to become or seem approachable. I’m just myself. I’m in the grocery store with my two children running in different directions, and I’ll stop and talk to anybody who’s got a question. It was never a strategic decision.

Politics is personal. Politics is about how you’re going to get your kid to the doctor, how you’re going to put food on the table, how you’re going to pay your mortgage and taxes, and how are you going to make sure that your kid gets a good education. That’s all affected by every person that you elect to represent you.

On how her background influences her approach to politics:

There’s very little that fazes moms—parents, in general—because we’re used to multitasking. We’re used to the craziness of our lives. I walk out of an event, and within two seconds, I have my flip-flops on, and my hair in a ponytail. My staff usually want to kill me; they want me to stay looking professional for longer.

I think the difference is I’m having fun with it. I don’t look at this and think it’s stressful. This is fun, and I’m getting out there and talking to people.

advertisement

Jahana Hayes, candidate in Connecticut’s 5th congressional district

On being relatable:

There was a line in my primary [campaign]: “If Congress starts to look like us.” And I had to explain that line for three months because I meant a representative of our communities. Our communities are these diverse places where we have all different people who are expected to get along, disagree without being disagreeable, and listen and develop deeper empathy. When I talked to people, it was this clear consensus: “I want a good education for my children. I want clean air and water. I want a brighter future.” Even though we may have gotten to that from different places, we were all looking forward in the same direction. I really just doubled down on the idea that I hear you, and I value your opinion, and I appreciate you; your opinion matters. And I think people had not been feeling like that.

I think the fact that I was a teacher really resonated with a lot of people. I brought in a lot of the experiences and stories of my students—and the families that I deal with. And I reminded people that while other people are talking about policies and budgets, I’m thinking about the family that’s affected by that policy. Just that human connection is what people are looking for.

Cristina Osmena, candidate in California’s 14th congressional district

On being relatable:

I’m a Republican and I’m wearing the scarlet “R.” So I deal with the stigma and then people meet me, and they’re like “Oh, well there are Republicans that are okay.” People are reluctant to call themselves Republican because it has such a bad brand. But the truth is that I’m the kind of Republican where my values are pretty consistent with people in the district. I’m a social liberal and fiscal conservative. I think I’m the majority politically—it’s just that I have a bad brand. So if [constituents] don’t know me and don’t meet me, they get mad at the brand. But if they read about me and talk to me, I get a lot of feedback that I’m consistent with their values. I’m a liberal Republican, but I could be a conservative Democrat. If the district were 100 people and I could meet every single person, I’d have an easier time winning.

On how her background influences her approach to politics:

I can pass for Latino; I speak a little Spanish and campaign in Spanish. And I have Chinese blood. I consider myself a full Filipino, but with about 50-60% of the district, I kind of look like them.

Part of the thing that I’m trying to do is figuring out: What will it take? How do you need to change in order to become an acceptable brand in the district? There’s a problem with the Republican kind of philosophy, which is okay everywhere else in the country, but really not okay in California. You need to accept identity politics and multiculturalism.

Adrienne Bell, candidate in Texas’s 14th congressional district

On being relatable:

advertisement

I’ve had a huge amount of interest and success across the board—not just African Americans. It’s all ethnic groups. We all have the same issues. There’s some more challenges in the African-American community, but everybody I’ve talked to wants their children to have a better education.

It’s time for a change. It’s time for having people in Congress that look different. My friends are not billionaires. I come from a regular background. I come from a neighborhood where growing up, we didn’t have big dreams or aspire to become lawyers or doctors. We just wanted to survive. I have faced a lot of obstacles in my life, and running against someone who’s an incumbent—that’s not even my focus. My focus is really on the people and what they need, such as jobs, better education, housing, and a representative who looks and thinks like them.

On how her background influences her approach to politics:

I realized that we need to educate our communities more with civic engagement, to make sure that our residents understand that politics are involved in their everyday lives. So often people say we don’t have time for politics. I was talking to a young man who said he didn’t vote; he didn’t have time because he was starting a business. I talked to him about how politics determines whether or not he can own a business, what school you can attend, if you can purchase a home, and where that home is going to be located. It affects everything in your life . . . [If we] get that education to our people so they become more civically engaged, they become more empowered to change issues that are going on in their community or their city, and that helps better their lives.

Paulette Jordan, gubernatorial candidate in Idaho

On being relatable:

[People] don’t see me as a typical Democrat because I’m not your typical Democrat. I’m a gun-owning, very independent-minded business woman. I definitely have a different kind of message. The language that I’m speaking can really carry across the aisle . . . A lot of conservatives have said, “I’ve been a Republican my whole life.” But they see that I’m offering real solutions, and that I mean it—I’m someone who always keeps my word.

The [Republican] party has gone far more corporatist. They’ve really left a lot of their people behind in so many ways, and because of that, they’re starting to look for alternatives and align with us. They’re becoming more open to [candidates] like me who are progressive, yet independent and fiscally conservative and offer a different kind of solution.

On how her background influences her approach to politics:

We hosted a bilingual event, and I think that was great because people who speak Spanish only normally don’t engage with politics or vote . . . These are good people in Idaho—there’s 80,000 who are bilingual—and they’re often not turning out to vote. This is why it was critical for us to reach every corner of our state and engage people on all levels possible.

I’m pure Idaho. [People] know I’m a defendant of our land because it’s my heritage . . . I will hold to my word when it comes to conservation of our public lands and our air and water quality. They know that they’re going to have a leader who will stand firm on the frontlines for all the people.

Deb Haaland, candidate in New Mexico’s 1st congressional district

On being relatable: 

advertisement

Half of our population here in New Mexico is Medicaid eligible. That tells us there’s a lot of folks on the lower part of the income spectrum. I get that. I’ve been on food stamps before. I know what it’s like to piece together healthcare for my daughter and me. I understand what it’s like for a lot of people who are struggling. So I want them to know, yes, I totally understand what that’s like. When I go to Congress, I’m a real voice for you.

Whenever I’ve worked on campaigns and wanted to get candidates elected, I felt like the most important thing to me was that I identified with them . . . I feel like if I can be transparent and try to have my authenticity come through, that people will identify with me.

I am who I am. My speech doesn’t change regardless of who I’m speaking in front of. I’m honest . . . In my first ad, one of the lines I used was, ‘I’m 30 years sober.’ I felt like I wanted to be transparent to voters—that’s not something I should hide. But I also wanted people to know that I recognize that addiction is an issue not just in our state, but across our country, and that I care about that issue. I want us to become a better society, and I want people to get the help that they need.

On how her background influences her approach to politics:

My dad was a 30-year career Marine. He passed away and is buried in Arlington. My mom is a Navy veteran, and she was a federal employee for 25 years in [Native American] education. I follow my parents’ lead; they were public servants. I got a good dose of that growing up at home. They weren’t really political, but they cared a tremendous amount about our community.

Congress doesn’t look like our country. It’s going to look a little more like our country after this election because there are more women running and more women of color running. It’s our time to speak up—for our environment, for our public education system, for people who have been sidelined by the billionaire class. Working families out there need a voice, and they need someone who cares about them. That’s what I intend to do.

advertisement
advertisement

About the author

Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.

More