Laurie Buchwald wants women to run — for office, that is. This former Radford two-term city councilwoman and family nurse practitioner, who challenged Delegate Joseph Yost in the 2013 election, is troubled by the lack of women in government. That’s all levels of government, from school boards through Congress.
Citing several localities that have no women on their boards, Buchwald wrote: “Women make up 51 percent of the population. We have a great perspective, and we need to be a part of those boards.”
Buchwald is a doer. You can see that from her brief resume above. She lost to Yost, the incumbent, but learned a lot in the process. She pondered another run, but has also launched a new practice this past year. Directing her energies to address the dearth of women in local offices, she began convening meetings — networking via email, and through Facebook.
The posts on the latter are simple and direct: “Elect Women:” followed by a locality name and an “!” (in the case of the meeting I attended last Sunday night, Elect Women: Christiansburg!) plus date, time, location and this call to action: “Have you considered running for office OR supporting a qualified candidate who is? Join us for conversation and a cup of something yummy at this expanding local business and let’s work to Elect Women!”
Buchwald began the effort by holding a kickoff meeting in February, which brought 40 people to her Radford residence. Since then, she has helped organized meetings in Pulaski, Giles, Blacksburg and Christiansburg with a total of around 90 people combined.
“Pulaski had a great turnout, including one dad who created a simultaneous event to watch the kids,” she noted, adding that men are welcome and have attended many of the meetings.
About 12 people showed up for the meeting on April 30, which was held at Lucie Monroe’s. One of them was Flourette “Flo” Moore Ketner, who has decided to run against Delegate Nick Rush in the 7th District. Rush ran unopposed in the 2015 election.
Ketner described her decision to run at the Sunday meeting, and elaborated via email, writing: “After November I grieved. It was such a poor show of our democracy as a whole. By inauguration day, I was incensed and after joining the women’s march, I felt compelled to do something. I joined the nonpartisan group Indivisible and felt democracy was still alive. After attending and speaking at a local town hall, in which our invited local representative refused to make an appearance, I was approached with the idea to run for office. Two days later I contacted my local Democratic Party and here I am, a mere two weeks after the town hall.”
The Floyd native who now lives in Christiansburg is a stay-at-home mom with three children. But she’s dedicated to the prospect of getting the word out. Her key areas of focus are education, the environment and small business support with an emphasis on broadband delivery for rural Virginia.
On Sunday, Ketner had to run to another election event, but left attendees with a memorable point: “I don’t just want a voice, I want to echo the voices of people in my district, bringing attention to our area.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Ketner’s position on this. Southwest Virginia’s interests are often overlooked in Richmond and Washington, D.C. Much in politics involves squeaky wheels and grease — lots of grease. (Yes, that’s my euphemism for funds.)
Similarly, lack of representation for women produces negative consequences. Buchwald presents statistics at her gatherings, drawing most from a 2012 study by Jennifer Lawless and Richard L. Fox. Titled “Men Rule: The Continued Under-Representation of Women in U.S. Politics,” the document begins by explaining that despite data showing that women running for office perform as well as male candidates, such as in fundraising and vote totals, women remain vastly under-represented in U.S. politics. The reason: they don’t run.
Lawless and Fox compare findings in 2001 with information collected in 2012. They write: “Despite the emergence over the past ten years of high-profile women in politics, such as Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin, we find that the gender gap in political ambition is virtually the same as it was a decade ago. The gender gap in interest in a future candidacy has actually increased.”
The bulk of the study discusses seven factors contributing to the disparity. (See sidebar.)
I also asked a few women who attended the Christiansburg meeting for their reaction to the study. Liz Claire from Blacksburg sees evidence in many of the factors: “I certainly saw sexism with Sarah Palin and Hilary’s campaigns. Having to do the bulk of housework doesn’t help either. There’s been a substantial move in the culture over the recent years, but disparities still exist.” She further agreed that building a network is a substantial distinction. “Much of politics is the old boys’ club.”
Number six resonated with Claire too: Women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office — from anyone. This point elicited groans from some in attendance.
“I almost want to call this group ‘Just Ask,’” suggested Buchwald.
Buchwald shared some statistics from “Men Rule” that are more painful to hear than the seven factors. These include:
• Only 17 percent of U.S. Senators are women and only 16.8 percent are members of the House.
• In world rankings of women in the national legislature, the United States is 91st after nations like Rwanda and Andorra, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark. Our total percent average is 16.9, with 19.3 as the international average.
Buchwald pointed out that three NRV localities have no women at the table of the top governing body, including the City of Radford, the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors and Christiansburg Town Council. I can add one more — the Pulaski Town Council is currently held by only men.
Phyllis Turk, a retiree living in Radford, held local offices while living in New York City. Moving to Virginia in 1985 where she worked a 24/7 call schedule as a certified nurse midwife ended that. She admits to only skimming the study, but offered the following assessment: “They report no difference in fundraising receipts but I think there’s a difference in how many women feel about asking for money. That may well be related to all the reasons listed but I think we’re better at asking for donations for causes and others we believe in more so than for ourselves. We know that running for office requires deep pockets — I think Flo was quoted $200,000, to start — and I’m one who hates fundraising.”
I’ve raised money for various projects and it’s never easy. But a professional and personal network makes a big difference. There’s that word again — network. And that other word — funding.
Dependence on loads of green is one of my pet peeves about politics. Gathering from success by a handful of candidates, most notably Bernie Sanders, (and in many voters’ eyes, President Trump), campaign finance and associated influence from donors are gathering momentum as a top issue for voters. Prospective candidates of any gender will take note.
Want to join in the Elect Women conversation? Send a Facebook message to Laurie Buchwald or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll connect you to her.