IN THE NEWS
By Laura Nahmias | 01/16/2019 05:01 AM EDT
A new political action committee is hoping to change a persistent dynamic in Washington — low rates of mothers with young children serving in Congress.
Despite a record number of women being elected this fall, the percentage of women in Congress who have young children is still very small — only 25 women currently serving have children under the age of 18, or less than 5 percent of the House.
A group of women, led by former House candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley, are launching "Vote Mama" this week, with the aim of recruiting, funding and training mothers with young kids to run for political office. They've set a goal of raising $1 million, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has filmed a video to promote it.
The PAC's advisory committee includes five current members of the House — Reps. Terri Sewell, Grace Meng, Kim Schrier, Gwen Moore and Katie Porter, as well as a host of other elected officials and advocates. It is partnering with several outside organizations, including the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women, Eleanor's Legacy, and Emerge to help identify potential candidates to support.
Candidates must be pro-choice and support both paid family leave, and universal pre-kindergarten to receive the group's backing.
Liuba lost her Long Island race to incumbent Republican Rep. Pete King in New York's second district but her campaign fought and won Federal Election Commission approval to use campaign funds for childcare — a first for candidates with children.
She told POLITICO the idea for Vote Mama came to her before she even jumped into the race, when she wished she had more examples of women with small children successfully running for higher office.
"I remember when I was even considering running for office, there was no one for me to talk to," Grechen Shirley said. "And I remember thinking I really wish there was someone that I could talk to who had run and won with babies. I wished there was a playbook."
Grechen Shirley said donors were initially dismissive of her when she first announced her plans to run for Congress.
"Women with young children are often dismissed as unviable," she said. "Until I started to raise a significant amount of money, people didn't take me seriously."
"When a man runs with children, they are automatically looked at as more responsible," Grechen Shirley said. "When a woman runs, people ask, how are you going to manage this? You are not taken as seriously if you have young kids."
Her experience mirrors the findings of a recent study by the Barbara Lee Foundation which found that voters are more likely to be skeptical about female candidates with young children.
"Voters express concern about the ability of women candidates and elected officials to balance the competing priorities of their families and their constituents," the study found. "Further, voters worry about the effect of running for office on the candidate's children, on the candidate as a person, and on the job she or he will do in office."
"It is more challenging to overcome critiques for a woman candidate or elected official who has young children, whether she is married or single," the study further found. "The age of the child or children matters a great deal. Voters perceive women with infants, young children, school-age children, and middle school or older children differently, and each scenario presents its own challenges. In general, having younger children is more challenging for voters to accept than having older children."
A 2016 report by the Brookings Institution, "Why Are Women Still Not Running for Public Office?" found that the issue of child care is a significant barrier to women deciding to run for office. Women are 15 times more likely to be responsible for the majority of the child care in their homes, the study found.
"When women see other women running they think they can do it too," Grechen Shirley said. "That's how things change — when it becomes normal, when your kids start to see that that's just what mommas do, that we run for office, that's when we change the conversation."
The PAC, which has both a federal entity and multiple state level committees, has already started fundraising and plans a launch in D.C. next month, and one in New York in March.