Thursday, October 25, 2012

          The requisites in actual representation are that the Representative should sympathize with their      constituents; should think as they think and feel as they; feel; and that for these purposes should even be residents among them.
                                                --James Madison: The Federalist (Fenno 2003, XXV)

            Since passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 many things have changed in America, one thing that has not changed significantly enough is that larger numbers of women are not running for political office. “In American society men continue to be somewhat more active in politics than women. Although women are more likely to go to the polls, with respect to other forms of political activity, men are more likely to take part” (Burns et al. 2001, 1). The statistics showing this difference found by Nancy Burns and collogues suggest that the difference is very small even “paltry” but then when considered within a large population the results are dramatic.
If we make the rough assumption that there are 200,000,000 voting age adults in the United States  and that they are divided equally between men and women, then the participatory deficit translates each year into:
            2,000,000 fewer phone calls or letters to public officials from women than from men;
            3,000,000 fewer women than men involved in informal efforts to solve community problems;
            7,000,000 fewer campaign contributions from women than men; and
            9,000,000 fewer women than men affiliated with a political organization (Burns et al. 2001, 2).

When we look at these numbers we see that women need to be involved in politics at its various levels and in its different ways of participation. There are many women in our communities, states and nation that are trying to break into the man dominated arena of political office. It is not easy and there are many barriers to be over come. Most women do not get into office on the first try and then when they do they have more struggles as they try to move from one level of political office to another. As women move into political office they are forging the way for more women to participate in politics.
            Aleta Taylor is a good example of what it takes for a woman to become politically active. As a mother of seven children her activism started at home and in school being an advocate for her children. With a firefighter-paramedic husband she was also aware of and involved in what was going on in her city.  After living in her community for many years it became natural to voice her opinions and to speak for her neighbors and friends. As a naturally out spoken and assertive person friends and family suggested that she should run for City Council. With her natural energy, enthusiasm, assertiveness and condor she ran her own campaign. She would unknowingly “use voters’ disposition toward gender as an asset rather than a liability” she also stressed the “compassion”, “traditional” and “women’s issues” (Herrnson 2003, 245).  In other words she ran as herself, a woman, caring about issues that were close to home.
            Here campaign strategy was simple and clear: To talk with every person in her district. Aleta put together a packet of information and set out to visit all the homes and businesses in the district. With the help of friends and family, every person in the district
received a call about the upcoming election and was reminded to vote. A Facebook and Web page were also used to get out information on her views on issues. Before Election Day she had personally visited all 2,300 houses in the district. Her personal approach and the many conversations with people in the community were the center of the campaign. She noted on her Facebook page that “It makes me sad to hear women say they won’t vote”. I know, you are busy, bit it’s your right, and you deserve to be heard” (Facebook Nov. 7, 2011). As a woman running for office she had hoped for support from woman and that she might motivate them to come out and vote.
            Aleta Taylor took office in 2008. She then ran again in 2011, loosing by 2 votes. While still in office, but after loosing her bid for second term she decided to run for Mayor. She did not win the mayoral election, so decided to run for the State House of Representatives. She used similar campaign strategies and even had four cottage meetings at her own home and two “meet the candidate” meetings in District fire stations.  She went out into the community when possible and even debated, but because the area was so large she could not meet all her constituents face to face.  Her message changed to broader national issues and not the “Women’s Issues” that had been the concerns when she was running for City Councilwoman. A strong difference in image and issues is seen on her web site for the House of Representatives election.
            On the web site she uses the tag line “Your Voice on Capitol Hill!” this is a far cry from the city Councilwoman campaign where she was representing the people in her own neighborhood on the issues common to them all. It is easy to see on her web page that she aligned herself strongly with her “party”, gun issues and with other issues that may be seen as more “male” or “force and violence” issues which voters may not see her as being as competent in, as the “compassion” issues. (Herrnson 2003) In this new campaign Aleta may have taken too strong of a stance that was seen by voters as being aggressive, something that voters would view as negative for a woman. A quote on her Facebook site shows this strength that voters may have misconstrued: “It is not my style to attack my opponent. If you have a concern please talk to me. I feel that my dedication to my community speaks for itself” (Facebook 2011). She was playing fair but may have been seen to be to strong for some voters.
            Aleta Taylor ran against a male opponent that had never held office before. He had a famous name and came from a popular and well known family as well as being an advocate for the “constitution” something that is very important to this constituency.  Her opponent was probably viewed as “strong” and “warm” because of his religious background and that he is a small businessman experiencing the hardships of making payroll during a time when the economy was not doing well, he also supported education and rights for everyone to have a public education and other issues that women voters are usually more concerned about.
            Aleta was very successful in her first campaign for City Council because she was able to be “Person to person” as Richard F. Fenno calls it with her constituents. One of the congressmen that Fenno interviewed explains what this means: “He thinks of himself as totally one with the community—a microcosm of it…when he goes home, he “beats the bushes’ and “ploughs the ground”, “we know each other by first name.”(Fenno 2003, 63). Aleta won her first election because the voters knew her and she was one of them. As James Madison said, she “should think as they think and feel as they feel”, she did this as a councilwomen.  Her strength was in the relationships and the time she spent with people one on one. When she championed the “women’s” issues she was seen as being an advocate for the people that had elected her. She was able to run as herself, a caring, informed political participant, representing her district as one of them; this is who voters wanted to vote for.

Burns, Nancy, Kay Lehman Schlozman, and Sidney Verba. 2001. The Private Roots of  Public   Action. Harvard University Press.

Facebook page. Aleta Taylor. 2011. Facebook page. Quotes: Nov. 2, 2011 and Nov. 7, 2011. (accessed Oct. 2012).

Fenno Jr., Richard F. 2003. Home Style: House Members in Their Districts. Addison-  Wesley Education Publishers Inc.

Herrnson, Paul S., J. Celeste Lay, and Atiya Kai Stokes. Women Running “as Women”:           Candidate Gender, Campaign Issues, and voter-Targeting Strategies. The Journal of Politics, Vol.65, No. 1.February 2003, 244-255.

Taylor, Aleta. Official website.  (accessed Oct 2012).

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