CA Democratic Convention: Women seek to “Close the Gap” in California politics

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 12.00.23 PMWomen remain the stars of the California Democratic Party.

This past weekend, Sen. Elizabeth Warren received top billing as the convention’s keynote speaker. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi earned rounds of applause from committee and caucus meetings. And, of course, the convention buzz focused on the U.S. Senate showdown between Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez.

But, below the surface, there was a clear frustration from some delegates that women aren’t equally represented in Democratic politics. That’s why as Speaker of the Assembly Toni Atkins and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon were speaking to the women’s caucus, Janet Cook was outside the meeting, dutifully passing out stickers for her organization, Close the Gap.

“Women are only 26 percent of the California Legislature,” said Cook, a Close the Gap CA recruiter for the East Bay. “We think that sucks.”

Close the Gap’s Mission: 16 for ’16

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 12.02.04 PM To Close the Gap, the organization is recruiting Democratic women to run for office, then offering early training to those progressive candidates on how to run an effective campaign. After several years of working towards its mission, the group has updated its website and refined its pitch to a concise game plan: 16 for ’16. That’s recruiting 16 strong women candidates for 16 targeted seats in the 2016 legislative election.

The group proudly boasts that they’ve already found nine women for those targeted races – with a large number of women of color.

“At a time when Latinos are the largest and fastest growing demographic in California, Latina women are one of the least represented groups in the state Legislature, currently at five out of 120,” points out a joint campaign brochure for three Democratic women candidates running next year in two of the targeted seats.

Close the Gap selected its 16 targeted races by looking first and foremost at open seats, which they see as opportunities. According to an election analysis by the Center for American Women and Politics, there’s a big gap in the success rate for women picking up open seats compared to knocking out incumbents.

In 2012 races for the House of Representatives, women ran for 26 open seats, winning 15 campaigns for an overall 57 percent success rate. Compare that to the 74 open seats where women ran against incumbents, winning just 4 races or five percent.

State Assembly pays women less; fewer in top staff positions

Part of the challenge in recruiting women to run for state office is that candidates often rise through the ranks as legislative staff. Yet, as a investigation revealed in 2013, the state Capitol remains a good old boys’ club.

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 1.10.09 PMWomen who work for the California State Assembly face a glass ceiling, substantial pay inequities and limits to their career advancement. Female employees are paid less than their male counterparts, are less likely to serve in leadership roles and remain stuck in secretarial positions, our 2013 analysis of legislative payroll data found.

Since that analysis, a Democratic woman has taken over the speaker’s office, yet little’s changed. Earlier this year, a review by the Sacramento Bee found pay inequities persist in the state Legislature.  Those gender biases, Cook believes, are best solved by electing more women to office.

“We just keep at it,” she said. “It’s not a short process. I’ve been working at it a long time, and I’ll continue to work at it.”

Open Legislative Seats in 2016

In 2016, more than two dozen seats of the state Legislature will be vacant. The 16 seats that are being targeted by Close the GAP CA are noted below with an asterisk (*).

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 12.13.26 PM

State Assembly

  • AD 6 Beth Gaines
  • AD 12 Kristin Olsen
  • AD 14 Susan Bonilla*
  • AD 16 Catharine Baker*
  • AD 24 Richard Gordon*
  • AD 27 Nora Campos*
  • AD 30 Luis Alejo*
  • AD 31 Henry Perea*
  • AD 34 Shannon Grove
  • AD 35 Katcho Achadjian*
  • AD 37 Das Williams*
  • AD 40 Marc Steinorth*
  • AD 43 Mike Gatto*
  • AD 48 Roger Hernandez *
  • AD 68 Donald Wagner
  • AD 71 Brian Jones
  • AD 76 Rocky Chavez
  • AD 78 Toni Atkins*

State Senate

  • SD 3 Lois Wolk*
  • SD 7 Vacant*
  • SD 9 Loni Hancock*
  • SD 11 Mark Leno*
  • SD 25 Carol Liu*
  • SD 27 Fran Pavley*
  • SD 29 Bob Huff
  • SD 35 Isadore Hall, III*

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