It seems women candidates and women’s issues may play prominently in Wisconsin’s 2014 elections. Two are interested in running for governor, and at least one national group – Emily’s List plans to be involved. Among the legislation that’s been generating strong reaction in Wisconsin are items concerning abortion and contraception. And two new PACS - political action committees recently formed to kick-up more interest here among female candidates and voters.
It often takes a lot of money these days, to win elections. The floodgates opened a few years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Citizens United case. The ruling allows groups of people – such as unions and corporations, to spend unlimited amounts of money advocating for or against candidates. Lisa Theo says the situation prompted her to join newly formed WIN - Women in Numbers.
“We honed in on the idea that with Citizens United and the way that the rules are laid out right now, you have to have money to win races. So we decided that what we would do is form a PAC,” Theo says.
Theo says WIN’s mission is straightforward – to help “progressive” women win elective office.
“The challenges we’ve had and the assaults against women’s reproductive rights in the last two years, in Wisconsin that is just dramatically increasing with new legislation that the governor has been signing. If more women were involved, if more women were up there trying to make changes and voicing the opinions of women, we probably wouldn’t be in the boat we are in right now,” Theo says.
While Theo criticizes decisions Gov. Walker has made, there’s one race WIN does not plan to weigh in on—the governor’s race.
“There’s plenty of funding right now for those at the state wide level. Our goal right now is to focus on the local campaigns and state legislative races,” Theo says.
Like WIN, another PAC with a new presence in Wisconsin intends to help women campaign for local office and the Legislature. Vicky Ostry is director of the Wisconsin branch of Voices of Conservative Women.
“I will be supporting candidates that want to help people keep more money in their pockets, and the money specifically that is taken by the government. So it’s lower taxes, its government regulation I suppose that inhibits both entrepreneurship as well as small businesses,” Johnson says.
Even though conservative women may have the same stances on economic issues as their male counterparts, Ostry says women candidates still have trouble garnering the support needed to win more seats.
“Maybe it’s because they don’t have the connections, maybe it’s because there are more men candidates, I don’t know the why. I just know that my experience is that they do,” Ostry says.
Part of the reason women lag here, could be related to the European cultures that settled in Wisconsin generations ago, according Genevieve McBride. She’s a historian at UW-Milwaukee.
“Very conservative ethnic groups. Scandinavians were very conservative in northern Wisconsin for a long time. Germans of course are notoriously conservative in Wisconsin for a long time down in the southeastern part of the state,” McBride says.
As for difficulties raising money…
“Where does that funding come from? It comes from the state party, it comes from national sources that support state elections. They don’t throw their money at candidates they don’t think can win. So it comes back to why can’t women win in Wisconsin for the longest time,” McBride says.
McBride says some women have succeeded recently. Last year for instance, Tammy Baldwin became Wisconsin’s first female U.S. Senator. Yet women occupy only 33 seats in the Legislature – 33 of around 130. Meanwhile, the City of Milwaukee has only one alderwoman.