One of the hardest parts of deciding to run for Congress was figuring out how to do it with small children. My babies were one and three when I launched my campaign, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. There is no playbook for running for office—and definitely no playbook for women running with babies.
Most people told me not to run – that I would never see my children and that I wouldn’t be taken seriously as a mom of young kids. I had no one to reach out to who had done it before. Yet I remember thinking, "if ten women have given birth while serving in Congress, I can certainly run with two toddlers." When moms see other moms running for office, we realize, “If she can do it—so can I.”
Even after I threw my hat in the ring, I realized my schedule of building forts, changing diapers and making lunch while talking to donors was unsustainable. But no one had found a solution to campaign and raise kids at the same time—because moms were discouraged from running for office in the first place.
But the obstacles didn’t stop there. My son broke his leg during the campaign— and on one particularly tough day at the doctor’s, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. That day, Senator Elizabeth Warren called. We talked politics briefly, and then we talked motherhood. We talked about juggling parenting and campaigning. Sen. Warren told me, “We moms – when we run out of milk, we make breakfast with orange juice!” That was just the pep talk I needed—because on your hardest day, you need to talk to someone who’s been through it.
That’s why I’m launching Vote Mama.
Even after the swearing in of our historic 116th Congress, our representatives are overwhelmingly male, wealthy, and older than 50. Not only do we need more women in Congress, we need more mothers.
We’re missing out on a critical voice. We’re missing out on the voice of people who know at a visceral level what it’s like not to have access to paid family leave; who know what it’s like not to be able to find affordable, quality child care; who know what it’s like to rely on the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover their children’s healthcare.
If we had more moms in office, we wouldn’t have a Congress that let the funding for CHIP lapse. We wouldn’t be the only country in the world – other than Papua New Guinea – that doesn’t have paid family leave. We wouldn’t have a Congress that tried to deprive 13 million American women of maternity care, at a time when we have the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world. And we would have more young girls looking up at their moms and thinking: running for office is the most natural thing in the world.
WHY VOTE MAMA
Women, and particularly moms of young children, face unique challenges when running for office. Especially in those critical early months, moms face increased scrutiny from donors, establishment institutions, and the public. There are many PACs that focus on electing women— but Vote Mama is the only one focused solely on electing moms.
Because of the cultural and structural hurdles moms face, many choose to wait until their children are grown before running for political office. Because they wait to get started, it’s harder for women to achieve leadership positions at the same rates as men. Speaker Pelosi, who waited to run until she was 47, has said how important it is for more young women to be in Congress “so that their seniority would start to count much sooner.”
In our political system, fundraising is unfortunately still the number one way many determine candidate viability. Vote Mama seeks to increase the political power of moms by stepping in to disrupt the systems that hold women back through direct financial support, mentorship, and endorsements.
We need to address the motherhood penalty in America—and this starts with electing more moms and changing the face of elected officials nationwide. Incoming Congresswomen are forming a “Moms in the House” Caucus. Senator Duckworth changed the rules so that babies are allowed on the floor. Speaker Pelosi pushed to install the first lactation room in the House. And I was the first woman in history to spend campaign funds for childcare. Moms are rewriting the playbook.... and we’re just getting started.
So I petitioned the Federal Election Commission and became the first woman in history to receive federal approval to spend campaign funds on childcare. This decision paved the way for working parents to run for office. Nine federal candidates took advantage of the ruling during this past cycle - both moms and dads. Soon after, women across the country were petitioning their states and cities to spend campaign funds on childcare too.
Liuba Grechen Shirley, Founder and CEO
Liuba has spent her career leading organizations to empower working families both at home and abroad. She has worked for the UN Foundation and was selected as a Global Champion for Women’s Economic Empowerment by UN Women. Together with UN Women, she launched the #IAmParent campaign for Parental Leave.
Liuba has forged partnerships between government, businesses, and nonprofits to tackle issues including economic development, access to health care, and paid family leave. She has worked with diplomats, healthcare workers and government leaders across four continents, and fought to make the use of international aid funds more accountable and less corrupt.
In 2018, Liuba ran a historic congressional campaign to represent New York’s 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She received the highest vote share of any Democrat to run against Peter King in 25 years. Liuba raised over $2 million with no corporate PAC money and built a grassroots movement of volunteers that knocked over 250,000 doors.
She became the first woman to receive federal approval to use campaign funds for childcare. The decision, which gained support from Hillary Clinton and 25 members of Congress, was unanimously approved by the FEC. Following her historic win, nine federal candidates used her FEC ruling to spend campaign funds for childcare— and candidates across the country followed her lead and petitioned their state and local governments for the same right.
Liuba holds an MBA with specializations in Management and Economics from New York’s University’s Stern School of Business, and a BA in Politics and Russian from NYU. She lives on Long Island with her husband Christopher and children, Mila and Nicholas.
In the News
Want women to run for Congress? We need someone to watch our kids first. - The Washington Post, 04/09/2018
We Need More Women In Congress - The Huffington Post, 11/28/2017
Sarah Rowen, Director
Sarah has spent her career working to elect moms to office across the country. She worked as Finance Manager on Kelda Roys’ 2018 campaign for Governor of Wisconsin and then as the Deputy Finance Director on Liuba’s congressional campaign.
She currently lives in New York and is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in Economics and Political Science. While she does not have children of her own, she can often be found goofing off with Liuba’s.