Tag Archives: Sarah McCall

A tale of two troubled campaigns

Over the weekend, when I realized that much of the Vermont political media corps had decamped for Iowa, I jokingly Tweeted an alert to politicians: this would be an ideal time to dump some bad news, because it would likely be under-reported by our depleted media corps.

Well hey, turns out I was right. Because not one, but two Democratic candidates for statewide office took the opportunity to fire their campaign managers: gubernatorial hopeful Sue Minter, and Rep. Kesha Ram, running for lieutenant governor. (Technically, Minter reassigned her campaign chief, but that’s so transparent it fails the laugh test.) The news was broken by one of the only political scribes who didn’t decamp to Iowa, Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck.

I think we’ve just achieved a great deal of clarity on the likely Democratic ticket. I don’t know for a fact that the Minter and Ram machines are in the ditch, but I do know that this is something that only happens when a campaign is in deep trouble.  It’s like a baseball team going into a new season with a new manager — and then firing the poor bastard on Memorial Day. It doesn’t happen unless there are exigent reasons, such as a 12-30 record and dead last in the standings.

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Return of theVPO Media Crossover Event!!!

Prepping for another hosting spot on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show Monday morning. Also Thursday, Friday, and next Monday the 29th. Here’s the lineup for tomorrow and some notes on the rest of the week…

9:00 Monday: State Rep. Corey Parent, R-St. Albans. He was one of eight freshman state lawmakers chosen for the Canadian Embassy’s “Rising State Leaders” program, which included a tour of eastern Canada. We’ll talk about his trip and his reflections on his first year in the Legislature. And since he’s from Franklin County, I’m sure I’ll ask him about Sen. Norm McAllister.

10:00 Monday: Sarah McCall, executive director of Emerge Vermont, a group that trains aspiring women to enter the political arena. (Vermont has rarely elected women to statewide office, and has never sent a woman to Congress.) We’ll talk about the ongoing shakeup in Vermont politics and whether it creates chances for women to move up the ladder.

And later in the hour, we’ll catch up with State Sen. Becca Balint. She was a 2014 graduate of Emerge Vermont, who went on to win a Senate seat from Windham County. She’ll talk about what the program did for her, and her thoughts on Year One in the legislature.

As for my other upcoming days…

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How long will our pickle party go on?

For a very liberal state, Vermont’s got a surprisingly lousy record on electing women to our highest offices. We’ve got the #1 state legislature for gender equity, but there’s a distinct glass ceiling above that. A recent survey ranked Vermont a dismal 39th in the nation on gender equity in political office, thanks to women’s under-representation from the state Senate and top mayoralties, their almost complete absence from statewide offices, and their complete absence from our Congressional delegation.

Dismaying, then, to read the recent words of Seven Days’ Paul Heintz in speculating on the “next generation” of Democrats who might seize the next opportunity to move up the ladder should, say, Sen Patrick Leahy retire from office:

The most obvious contenders would be Congressman Welch, 67, and Gov. Shumlin, 58, though both men feign disinterest, perhaps out of respect for Leahy. If either was to leave his current job to run for Senate, that would provide openings for the next generation of Vermont politicos — including, presumably, Speaker Smith, Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan, Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.

No offense to any of those worthies, but four names, four men.

Sigh.

I checked in with Heintz to see if his list was meant to be comprehensive in any way, and he responded thusly:

That list definitely wasn’t meant to be comprehensive. I included a few up-and-coming officeholders whose names are frequently mentioned as potential statewide candidates. But there are plenty of others who would be equally strong candidates, including a number of women.

There’s no question that Vermont has elected too few women to statewide office. It’s pretty shocking that we’re one of just four states to have never sent a woman to Congress. I would certainly hope that Vermont’s next crop of congressional candidates is more reflective of our population than the current crop of incumbents.

Unfortunately, when you get down to it, the longer list of ambitious Democratic politicos is almost entirely male as well. The most prominent woman on the list, and just about the only one, is former State Rep. and current Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter, while the amount of testosterone on that longer list would be enough to gag a goat.

Not sure what that means, but I’ll carry on.

When that gender equity report came out, Sarah McCall of Emerge Vermont, a group trying to encourage and train female candidates, expressed concern that the next few years are a critical time. If the upcoming round of political retirees are replaced by more men, she noted, we might have to wait another generation for female leaders to take their rightful place. And we’ve already lost a generation since Madeleine Kunin was our one and only female Governor.

In response to Heintz’ list — and really, to the unbalanced reality behind it — McCall offered these comments:

…this is certainly a conversation that Vermont politicos will be having frequently between now and 2016. In Vermont, we are lucky to have such strong leaders in our federal delegation and statewide offices; and whoever follows in Senator Leahy’s footsteps has some very big shoes to fill.

… I have no doubt that there are qualified female leaders in this state who aspire to serve our state in Washington, DC and Emerge Vermont will continue to train female leaders so that women running for public office at all levels of government becomes more commonplace.

It’s a hard thing to ask a qualified male to limit his own ambitions for the sake of equity. But breaking Vermont’s glass ceiling is long overdue. And I’d ask this of Vermont Democrats: Do we have to depend on the Republican Party, which might very well feature Heidi Scheuermann on its 2016 ticket? Or are you going to actively seek to remove the glass ceiling instead of simply bemoaning its existence, while allowing Business As Usual to continue?

We’re Number 39! We’re Number 39! We’re Number 39!

A survey of women’s representation in elective office came out a few days ago, and it found good old progressive liberal hotbed Vermont way down in 39th place among the 50 states.

And who was number one? That neighboring hotbed of retrograde conservatism, New Hampshire. Best in the nation. 38 places ahead of us.

The survey comes from a group called Representation 2020, which is working toward gender parity in public office. It measured each state by proportion of women in Congressional delegations, statewide elective offices, state legislatures, mayoralties, and county executive positions. (Oops, Vermont doesn’t have any of those.) And it assigned a score to each state, on a scale of 1 to 100. A score of 50 would indicate gender parity.

No state got there, naturally. The top six states managed to get into the 30s.

Vermont? To paraphrase Nigel Tufnel, we go all the way to eleven.

Eleven. 

We get top marks in one category — women in the lower house of the legislature. 42% of our state representatives are women; we earned ten points for that. Which means, of course, that we really suck at everything else. The only other point we got was for State Treasurer Beth Pearce. To tick off some of our dismal statistics:

— We’ve never elected a woman to Congress.

— We’ve only had one female governor, Madeleine Kunin.

— Although we do very well in the state House, we don’t do so well in the Senate: only eight women out of 30, roughly 26%.

— None of our five largest cities has ever had a female mayor. EVER.

— Currently, only one of our eight cities has a female mayor.

So, House of Representatives aside, why is Vermont politics such a pickle party? I spoke with Sarah McCall, executive director of Emerge Vermont, a nonprofit whose goal is “identifying, training and encouraging women to run for office, get elected, and to seek higher office.” The most notable graduate of EV’s first training round is Windham County Democrat Becca Balint, who’s virtually assured of a seat in the state Senate after finishing second in the party primary. (Two seats up for grabs; no Republicans running.) She will replace the departing Peter Galbraith, which I mention only because I never get tired of saying “the departing Peter Galbraith.” Tee hee!

McCall says Vermont has a “great track record” in the House, but there seems to be a glass ceiling above that. She identifies a number of factors limiting women’s upward mobility:

— Small state, small number of high-level seats.

— “No term limits,” and “incumbency is very strong in Vermont.”

— A lack of women in the positions that usually feed into high office: mayoralties, and the State Senate.

McCall describes the next few years as a critical time, because the members of our Congressional delegation will retire sooner or later, and Governor Shumlin will likely move on after another term or two. “Madeleine Kunin thought there’d be women following in her footsteps,” she says, but there were none. We lost a whole generation. Now, “we’re building the pipeline, making sure we have women in position, ready to go, when opportunities open up.”

Of course, they’ll face a challenge from the men of the next generation, who’ve been biding their time waiting for our gray-haired solons to retire. I suppose it’d be too much to ask those men to set aside their own political aspirations for the sake of some equity.

And before anyone starts yammering about “affirmative action” and “choosing the most qualified,” here are a few words on that subject from Ms. McCall.

She says there’s a “misconception” that women need to beef up their resumes to be competitive. It’s the other way around, in fact: “Women are usually more qualified, because they believe that they need to be overprepared before running for office.”

I’ve seen the same phenomenon in the ranks of the clergy: just about every female minister/pastor/priest/rabbi/etc. I’ve ever met has struck me as extremely qualified: learned, intelligent, and empathetic. It’s because a woman still has to jump through a lot of hoops to get into the clergy, so only the best and most determined get in.

Emerge Vermont, by the way, is currently seeking applicants for its second round of training. The application deadline is November 10, and the training starts in January. Prepare now, to run in 2016!

Also, EV is having its big annual celebration on Wednesday, October 15 at the Shelburne Museum. They’ll be honoring Madeleine Kunin on the 30th anniversary of her election as Governor. Information on all this good stuff at EV’s website.

I wish them well. We could certainly use a lot more gender equity in Vermont. In this category at least, New Hampshire puts us to shame. How ’bout we start closing the gap?