There are many reasons why I love living in Maryland, and the state’s Democratic politics is one of them. If you’re a progressive, how can you not love it? In 2012, we affirmed marriage equality, passed our version of the Dream Act and banned arsenic in agriculture, to name a few high-profile accomplishments. Our sights are now set on repealing the death penalty this year.
But there’s one more reason why Maryland politics is exciting to follow – its female leaders, present and future. I fully realized this when I attended a women’s Candidate, Campaign & Leadership Training, hosted by the Democratic Women’s PAC of Maryland and the Young Democrats of Maryland’s Women Caucus on Jan. 12. The daylong conference was designed to give Democratic women the tools, tips and strategies to run for local and state-wide offices, from campaign 101 to fundraising, online strategies, field operations and public speaking.
One look around the packed lecture hall at UMBC, and it was clear that the room was full of women of different ages, races and backgrounds from across the state. More important was the enthusiasm, tone and energy of the conference. Women (elected to public office or not) were helping other women by respectfully sharing their knowledge and experiences in the field and doing so with a good dose of humor and encouragement. Rep. Donna Edwards (D), Delegates Susan Lee, Ariana Kelly, Mary Washington; Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin and Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley were some of the elected women who offered advice and encouraged several women eyeing public office to keep in touch after the conference.
Underlying this energy was a feeling of working together, not against one another, to increase the number of women in public office in Maryland. The supportive attitude and energy of women mentoring women for leadership positions is what will make the difference in increasing our numbers in statewide and Congressional offices. As women, we have a responsibility to grow new political leadership networks on local, state and federal levels, or else we won’t be heard.
Numbers from the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University gives us an idea of where Maryland is in terms of female representation and how far it still has to go. According to the Center for American Women in Politics, Maryland ranks 8th among state legislatures for the proportion of women. Out of 188 legislators in the Maryland House and Senate, only 57 are women. Women are 30 percent of the state legislature. We have one female U.S. Senator (Barbara Mikulski), one Congresswoman (Rep. Donna Edwards), and no women in executive positions. (This could change if Del. Heather Mizeur, a strong feminist, runs for governor and wins!)
Although Maryland’s numbers are better than women’s representation in the U.S. House and Senate (18 percent), I think we can do better and set an example for the rest of the country. The Candidate, Campaign & Leadership Training is a step in the right direction and I’m already keeping an eye on a few women here in Frederick County who could run for office. I hope they do. Ultimately, I want to see Maryland women make up 50 percent of the state legislature and more. If Saturday’s training was any indication, I’d say that we can do it.