INFUSION OF NEW BLOOD
That has women like Anne Gass of Gray – a grant writer and author of a book on her suffragette great-grandmother – entering the political arena for the first time.
“I decided to run the night Trump was elected,” said Gass, an unenrolled candidate for House District 67. “I was laying in bed awake all night, thinking about what we would likely see happen in the coming year as a result of the election.”
“Some of the rhetoric in the campaign was very anti-woman, I thought. I was concerned about women’s reproductive rights. ‘What can I do about this?’ I asked myself,” Gass said.
For Anne Carney of Cape Elizabeth, it was a call from her distraught 28-year-old daughter the morning after the results came in.
“She called me at seven in the morning, just sobbing,” said Carney, who is running for House District 30. “She said I can’t imagine bringing a child into this world. … She was distraught that people felt so hopeless that they felt Trump was the best option, and she thought that the world he was painting seemed so full of anger.”
“That hit me so hard,” said Carney. “And it motivated me stronger than I’ve been motivated for anything in my life to do something to improve the outlook for the (next) generation.”
And it’s not just Democrats.
Republican Allyson Cavaretta, a third-generation business owner in Maine, said the time just seemed right for her, even if she wasn’t directly inspired to run because of Trump.
“I think in general, women are feeling more empowered to run and volunteer around campaigns and civic engagement,” said Cavaretta, who is a candidate for the House District 3 seat, now held by Democrat Lydia Blume.
Cavaretta and others say they were urged to run by Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, who five years ago co-founded She Leads – a Republican counterpart to Emerge Maine – to support Republican women with training and support.
“It really made a difference to me to get a woman’s perspective,” Espling said about her own entry into the political world. “I think that’s part of what we, as women, should be doing. Encouraging one another.”
‘A GALVANIZING MOMENT FOR WOMEN’
Today’s first-time candidates aren’t held back by old ideas that they “aren’t ready yet,” recruiters and analysts say.
“The 2016 election was a galvanizing moment for women,” said Jean Sinzdak, associate director of Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics. “There was a lot of anger, a lot of ‘I want to do something.’ ”
“…Hillary Clinton was so high-profile, even if you weren’t necessarily a fan of hers, seeing a woman in that role really did shape women’s perceptions of what a president can look like,” said Sarah Skillin Woodard, executive director of Emerge Maine.
The state also has more women elected to the State House.
Nationwide, Maine is ranked seventh in the nation for having the most women in the state legislature, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.
The proportion of women in the Maine Legislature is 34 percent, compared to 25 percent average nationwide.
Part of that is because of the work done by party training for both Democrats and Republicans. Having those resources makes a big difference.
Espling, now the assistant minority leader of the Maine House of Representatives, co-founded She Leads about five years ago to fill a need.
There was “absolutely no focus on running women in the Republican Party,” she said.
“At least that’s what it felt like,” said Espling, who is running for the Maine Senate this year. “Democrat women had so many more resources, but for me as a more conservative person, I also felt like the Democrat Party didn’t speak for me as a woman.”
WHAT MAKES MAINE DIFFERENT?
Experts say Maine is a good place for a woman to run for office for several reasons.
Aside from having strong role models, many of the traditional barriers that held women back from entering politics – a sense that it would take up too much time, difficulty raising funds or tapping into an existing male-dominated political network – are lower than in other states, experts say.
As a state of small towns, Maine voters also know their candidates personally. Women frequently hold local offices, such as town clerk or select board, and locals get to know them in those roles and see them in positions of authority.
The Legislature is a part-time citizens’ assembly, which can make it easier for a woman concerned about shortchanging other aspects of her life.
The state also has a history of electing independents, noted one activist.
“The fact that we have as many independents as we do lends itself to being more open to the person versus the party,” said Woodard, at Emerge Maine. “Voters might look at women as potential candidates more readily.”
Fundraising and tapping into a political network aren’t as daunting in Maine because the state doesn’t have a strong political party system, which can narrow the field for the primaries.
The Clean Election system for publicly financing campaigns can make it easier to run because candidates don’t have to raise as much money.
…This year the crowded gubernatorial field includes women in executive positions – Republican Mary Mayhew, the former head of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services; Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat; and State Treasurer Teresea Hayes, unenrolled.
DO WOMEN LEAD DIFFERENTLY?
Women walk a careful line when describing what makes a female politician different. None of them wants to be pigeonholed as running just because she is a woman, or because they will only care about so-called “women’s issues.” The phrase itself is challenged today. The argument is that while there are issues such as reproductive rights that directly affect women, all issues – the economy, foreign policy, the military – are women’s issues.
But women do tend to have a different style of leadership, no matter their political party.
“Women have a broader perspective, a wider range of temperaments and a way of negotiating issues of importance to us that would not rank high with our male counterparts,” Millett said, “and a collegiality.”
“Women bring different life experiences than men do,” Collins said. “In my experience, women tend to be more collaborative, more likely to work across the aisle and have a more pragmatic problem-solving approach.”
Snowe said the number of women running for office today is “transcendent.”
“It’s extremely important,” she said. “Women are realizing that their voices can and should be heard.”
Snowe was the first woman to serve in both houses of a state legislature and both houses of Congress. She served 16 years in the House, plus three six-year Senate terms.
Being a woman, particularly at the time when there were not many women in Congress, made a difference, she said.
Snowe co-chaired the congressional Women’s Caucus in the 1980s and “we often commented on the fact that so many of the issues we drove as part of our agenda would have languished on the back burners if we hadn’t made a concerted effort to continue to advance them.”
…”It’s not enough to have just a few women either,” Millett said. “If you are two women in a room of 20 men, you could get overshadowed pretty quickly. If you are half (women), you have equal heft and you can make a difference,” Millett said.
Women voters flexed their power at the voting booth in December in Alabama, leading to Democrat Doug Jones’ victory in a Senate special election over Roy Moore. In November, a “blue wave” driven by engaged women flipped 15 seats and helped Democrats come just one vote from taking control of the Virginia House of Delegates for the first time since 2000 – and elected the nation’s first transgender candidate and several minority candidates.
“It’s healthier for our institutions to be reflective of the population as a whole,” Snowe said. But at about 20 percent women in Congress, “that’s still not enough for where I think we need to be politically and legislatively…”