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Groups Get Women Running For Office Ready For Battle

This undated photo shows Mary Salas.
Mary Salas For Chula Vista Mayor 2014 Campaign
This undated photo shows Mary Salas.

Up Against The Ceiling: The Push For More Women In California Politics

This story is the second part of a three-part series on women in California politics, Up Against the Ceiling: The Push for More Women in California Politics.

During her campaign for Chula Vista Mayor, City Councilwoman Mary Salas stopped by a reception for the local chapter of the group MANA.

"I always acknowledge the role that MANA had in shaping my career and shaping my future," she told the crowd when she was called up to speak.

MANA works to support and advocate for Latina women throughout society, including politics. And Salas, a former state assemblywoman, says MANA pushed her to try things she was afraid of.

"In trying things you’re afraid to do you will succeed," she said. "And if you don’t succeed, it’s OK. I’ve lost elections and that’s fine. You just get up and try again."

But apparently a lot of California women don’t feel the same way. Studies show that when women run for office they’re just as likely to win as men. But many women aren’t running. Rachel Michelin is Executive Director of California Women Lead, a non-partisan group that trains women to run for office or get political appointments.

"What I hear is 'I’m not qualified,' 'I don’t know enough,' 'I’m not an expert on the issues,' 'I need to do my research,'" she said.

Michelin said typically, for every one woman running for the state legislature, four men are running.

"It’s still hard for women to be successful, in both political parties," she said. "There still is very much a good ‘ol boys club out there when it comes to politics."

California has a female attorney general and secretary of state and its two United States senators are women. But at lower levels of government, women have not been able to break through the 30 percent representation ceiling. The one exception is school boards, where women make up 47 percent. And while they’re not elected, nearly half of the political appointments made by Gov. Jerry Brown have been women.

Kimberly Ellis is with Emerge California, which focuses on training Democratic women to run for office. She says women almost always have to be asked to run.

"Most of the women say no right away when we ask them," she said. "And the research shows us that actually on average women have to be asked about seven times before they will consider running for office."

Once the women finally do say yes, Ellis gets to work training them. She said groups like hers are crucial to connecting women with networks, giving them campaign advice and making sure they’re confident and ready for what’s ahead.

"We prepare our women for battle. Because that is what the campaign trail is," she said. "But it’s also what sitting at these big decision making tables is as well."

Republican Media Consultant Cassandra Pye has been at that table. She was Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and occasionally helps women campaign. Pye cites a number of reasons why women don’t run, even after they’re asked.

"One, no matter how great or egalitarian a spouse I have, I’ve got responsibility for my family. Secondly, fundraising turns a lot of people off, men and women," she said. "Thirdly, and I think this is really important, I think just the rough and tumble of politics turns a lot of women off. It turns voters off."

And there’s another challenge female candidates face — getting support from other women. Rachel Michelin said she experienced that when she ran for office six years ago and lost.

“I had women who wouldn’t support me and they supported the man over me. I had more male contributors than female contributors," she said. "I had women’s groups saying, 'we’ll support you Rachel.' And I said 'great, can I get a contribution?' 'Oh, but we can’t write you a check.' But when I look up their campaign finance report, they’re writing checks to male candidates.”

Michelin said the political glass ceiling won’t be broken until women stop playing by the political rules men have established. She also has a message for every woman that casts a ballot: if there are two candidates with similar positions and qualifications and one is female, vote for her.