Monday, April 15, 2002, Vol. 116, No. 73

Women seeking office need support Political obstacles still loom for women By MARY DANDO The Daily News Shelby County is often seen as an aberration in relation to the rest of the state. On a positive level, women turned out to vote in greater numbers in the presidential election in Shelby County 66 percent of African-American voters and 55 percent of white voters were women. These numbers are not found in other Tennessee counties. A speaker at a seminar on female participation in the political process said it might be attributable to the countys 18 early voting sites. The sites are conveniently located in neighborhoods in which women live, work, care for children and are caregivers. But, on the broader issue of women and politics, although more women are seeking office, it is more difficult for a woman than it is for a man to get elected. "Electing and Appointing Women to Public Office" organized by the Tennessee Lawyers Association for Women will offer guidelines for those who have ever contemplated pursuing political office. The seminar takes place at the Memphis Botanical Gardens, April 26 and will feature Becky West, West Rogers Strategic Communications president, as its luncheon speaker. West contends to get more women elected more women need to get involved in the political process, including voting. She is in charge of marketing for the Womens Foundation for Greater Memphis. She said women have to first raise political consciousness. "In Tennessee, we rank 46th in the nation of women that are registered to vote and who participate in the political process. One of the things were going to have to do as women is to raise consciousness about the lack of female participation," she said. Pointing to the practicality of the early voting sites in Shelby County, West said as part of that effort other counties in the state should be encouraged to make early voting more widely available. West is currently working on the campaign of U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant (R-7th) who is seeking Fred Thompsons seat in the U.S. Senate. "I am going to be talking about a myriad of things. Im not just going to be talking about the candidates," she said. West has worked on election campaigns for Jim Rout, John Bobango, Don Sundquist and A.C. Gilless, among others. One of the keys to women getting more involved in the political process is economic self-sufficiency, West said. "Women earning minimum wage with one child have to work 80 hours a week just to pay their bills. Women dont have time to get involved in politics," she said. Many women who are divorced or are single mothers are just fighting for economic survival, she said. West said she would be sharing her own experiences of working in the political process. "There are bright spots but were so far behind what needs to be done," she said. One way women can get initially involved in politics is by volunteering in business and community organizations that give them the credentials necessary to offer themselves as potential candidates, West said. Another panelist, attorney David Kustoff said the first thing to do is to get involved at the grassroots level. "Before any type of elective office or political appointment is sought, I think its beneficial for the individual to become involved in the political process at the grassroots level by joining a political party or working on the campaign of a friend," he said. By helping a candidate by raising money, making phone calls, distributing literature and mailing correspondence, an individual can learn about the process before embarking upon seeking office. Kustoff is no stranger to the political process. He is a former chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party and also was Tennessee campaign manager for George W. Bush in the presidential election. Even if a woman decides she has the "right stuff" to run for office, she also has to contend with the huge task of raising money for her campaign. Thats where the support of other women for a potential candidate is so crucial, said Jennifer Hagermann, one of the organizers of the seminar. Hagermann, an attorney with Burch, Porter & Johnson, said although she wasnt interested in running for office, she was interested in actively supporting other women. This is echoed by Judge Kay Robilio, incoming president of the Tennessee Lawyers Association for Women. "The difficulty for women is in raising the funds necessary to support the campaign financially. Its one thing to say youre going to run, but if you dont have the wherewithal to finance the campaign, youre essentially closed out," she said. Women who want to run for office need to get tougher and keep on track, she said. "Youve got to be tenacious and youve got to stay the course. When things are rough, youve got to keep on going. You just move forward and you dont give up," Robilio said. Robilio said TLAW believes it is in the communitys best interest to raise consciousness levels about the need for parity in representation. "Were hoping not only to have people who are running for office and some of their staff, but people who are interested in running for public office, as well as some seniors from colleges and high schools," she said. The seminar begins with a panel discussion on elections at 11 a.m., lunch at noon and a panel on appointments at 1 p.m. Panelists include Kustoff; Gale Jones Carson, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party and executive assistant to Mayor Willie W. Herenton; Paula Casey, political activist and Tennessee Politics board member; Tom Jones, Shelby County public affairs officer; Virginia Ralston, Womens Political Caucus president; Buck Lewis, former chairman of the Democratic Party of Tennessee; and Sandra McQuain, Howell McQuain Strategies Inc. For reservations, call Carleton Nuckolls, 754-1574.