Women in American Politics

  • submit to reddit

Bill Moyers looks at the rising number of women on the political scene and their impressions of politics. Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, former Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin, Senator Carol Moseley Braun and other female politicians talk about the challenges women candidates face in politics and what women bring to governing our nation.


Welcome to Listening to America. I’m Bill Moyers.

Nineteen ninety-two is turning out to be a record year for women running for political office.

There are plenty of reasons to focus our attention on women this election year, but one event that motivated us took place in our office here in New York. It was January 29th, the morning after President Bush’s State of the Union message. Now, it’s not surprising to see any group of women in our office engaged in a heated discussion and I certainly expected reactions to that speech. But no, they were discussing something else. They were discussing the montage of faces captured by the camera from the rostrum where the President spoke to the furthermost rows of the assembled Congress.

It was this picture of the leaders of our land that had my colleagues fuming – the President, Vice President and Speaker of the House at center stage.

President GEORGE BUSH: We are still and ever the strongest nation on earth and…

BILL MOYERS: And in the audience, the highest legislative body of our country. Everyone, male and female, is taught in school to think of our system as an exemplary democracy and all of us know we live in one of the most diverse societies on earth. President Bush refers to “the people,” but these are the people who govern – almost all men, almost all white.

Women are half the American population, but of 100 Senators, only two are women. Of 435 members of the House, just 28 are women. Now, my colleagues have seen this picture before, but their gender dander was up from another event a few months earlier. It, too, produced some striking images. First, there was the image of seven Congresswomen marching up the Capitol stairs. The Senate Judiciary Committee was about to vote on Judge Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court and these Congresswomen were outraged that the committee had ignored allegations of sexual harassment by a former employee.

Then there was the image of Professor Anita Hill, a black woman testifying about sexual harassment to an all-male, all-white Judiciary Committee.

Professor ANITA HILL: It is only after a great deal of agonizing consideration and sleepless number – great number of sleepless nights that I am able to talk of these unpleasant matters to anyone but my close friends.

BILL MOYERS: And while many women and men admitted that it might be impossible ever to know who was telling the truth, a lot of women were especially angered by the contempt some Senators heaped on Anita Hill.

Senator ALAN SIMPSON (R-WY) : I’ve got letters hanging out of my pocket. I’ve got faxes saying, “Watch out for this woman!” But nobody’s got the guts to say that because it gets all tangled up in this sexual harassment crap.

BILL MOYERS: The fall-out began immediately.

ACTRESS: [“Designing Women”] You all watching? They’re just about to vote. This thing is making me nuts!

BILL MOYERS: This episode of Designing Women on CBS aired soon after the hearings.

ACTRESS: [shows T-shirt saying, “He did it.”] Well, they were selling them in the mall. I am so mad about this! I tell you, I have never been so mad about anything in my whole life! Did you see – here, look at this. Alan Simpson refers to this as, “this sexual harassment crap.” Nice talk, huh, from a United States Senator?

Senator John Danforth is on the CNN this morning, saying that some psychiatrist had come forth now and thinks that, well, that women who accuse men of these kinds of things are delusional. I’ll tell you what I think I ought to do. I think I’ll just call up Mr. Senator Danforth and tell him that maybe some white, male, aging Senators are delusional to think that the American women are going to continue to reelect them when they get up there on the TV and say stuff like that.

[dials phone] It’s busy! You know, that’s all you ever get when you call the Senate. And they say women talk on the phone?

BILL MOYERS: Across the country, scores of women did more than call their Senators. They decided to run for Congress themselves. So far there are more than 20 women candidates for the U.S. Senate and more than 200 altogether running for Congress. Many more are standing for state offices. The Thomas-Hill hearings are cited as a powerful impetus to all this political energy.

Harriet Woods is president of the National Women’s Political Caucus, a bipartisan organization founded back in the 1970’s to support and train women for political office.

You must find some special poignancy in that little piece from Designing Women because you ran against Senator John Danforth back in, when, 1982?

HARRIET WOODS, National Women’s Political Caucus: Nineteen eighty-two. And yes, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

BILL MOYERS: You lost by a very narrow margin.

HARRIET WOODS: I lost by the narrowest of margins, less than 1 percent, and I think there’s an interesting contrast of a woman running 10 years ago and the atmosphere and the excitement and the – in fact, I was energized all over again, watching that clip.

BILL MOYERS: Well, what has changed?

HARRIET WOODS: I think a number of things have changed. In ’82, when I ran, I’ll be real honest, the leaders of my own party ran someone against me. The idea was that women really weren’t up to running for United States Senate. We weren’t tough enough. The issues were Cold War. You know, “Can you push the button?” They actually put up a national committeeman instead of me. They said even though I’d been in the state senate for years and everything, they said, well, you know, I was just nothing but a suburban housewife.

The second thing, I think, is – and of course, I think today we’ve seen the agenda really shift to domestic issues, people issues, concerns-

BILL MOYERS: The Cold War’s supposedly over, right?

HARRIET WOODS: Well, I think people are looking for problem-solving. I think the second thing is, of course, people are just fed up. It isn’t just the Thomas hearings. People feel Congress is deadlocked. They’re looking for change and they see women as outsiders. In ’82, they were looking for an insider, someone who knew how to be part of the club. Now they want someone who isn’t part of the club.

BILL MOYERS: You also have this Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearing. And one of the intriguing things to me is that for a long time, abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment really stirred a lot of women up, but it seems to me that the Thomas-Hill – the charges of sexual harassment are even more powerful than those other issues.

HARRIET WOODS: There’s no doubt there was a spontaneous outburst that just literally washed over the Congress. It bewildered everyone. I want to tell you the truth, it was a little surprising to us because the women who called, the women who’ve been writing checks and saying, “I want to run. I want to support a woman. I want to give dollars” are not really part of our traditional advocacy groups. They’re women at home, in the workplace, who said, “I know what it’s like to feel,” as they say, “powerless, to feel that – that someone’s preventing me from doing something in my life to – that my family can’t advance, that I can’t speak out. And now I see it. I saw it on primetime television. It’s all those old white guys who were up there.” You know, “They’re the ones who are making the decision.”

BILL MOYERS: Well, that response triggered a lot of races, as I said in the earlier part of this program, but it also brought one woman in particular quickly to the fore of a race out in Illinois. Her name: Carol Moseley Braun, and she’s been making headlines recently since she knocked out Democratic Senator Alan Dixon in the Illinois primary in mid-March. If she wins in November, she’ll be the first African-American woman to serve in the Senate.

Here’s a report by Gail Pellett.

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: The people of Illinois three weeks ago proved that this democracy is alive and well, that all we have to do is take the power in our hands to make this government respond to us, to make this government listen to us, and to open up the doors of the halls of power to people like you and like me, who believe this Constitution works for everybody.

NARRATOR: Carol Moseley Braun’s Senatorial campaign has become a symbol of the political fallout from the Thomas-Hill hearings.

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: I’ve got to tell you, you made this happen. When they told us that a woman couldn’t serve in the United States Senate, we said, “Wrong, wrong, wrong!” The single most important factor in my decision to run was that people out there drafted me to run and thought I should run. Now, their motivation was the hearings. My motivation was that the Senate needed, as I called it, “a healthy dose of democracy.”

NARRATOR: While the Thomas hearings were still on the air, Carol Moseley Braun began receiving calls from supporters. Braun says those constituents were outraged when Illinois Senator Alan Dixon argued on the Senate floor on behalf of Judge Thomas.

Sen. ALAN DIXON (D-IL) : That means Professor Hill’s allegations cannot be used to justify a vote against Judge Thomas.

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: Then, by some circumstance that I’ll never understand, his phone line was shut down on that Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and then Monday was a holiday, so it was shut down for four days. In that four-day period of time, at least the reports were that some 120,000 phone calls came into his office and those phone calls, of course, went un-answered. And so that just enraged people even more and really inspired a lot of additional activity. As a matter of fact, if we were to just kind of go through my phone messages, what happened for me was that I started getting calls to run when the hearings first started. After the vote happened, it was just an avalanche.

GLORIA STEINEM, Author: This is the woman about whom they said, “It couldn’t be done,” but we’re going to do it, right? So I want to present you with my check here for $1,000.

NARRATOR: Although both Senator Dixon and another Democratic opponent outspent Braun dramatically, she won the March 17th primary. Senate Alan Dixon hadn’t lost a state or local election in a political career spanning more than 40 years.

SEN. ALAN DIXON: I won 29 times with grace and I lose once, thank God, with that same grace.

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: This is a people’s victory. We won it without a whole lot of money. Women voted for me, Republican women, independent women, downstate, suburban, city. But again, I have to make the point, if you check the returns, I mean, it was a women’s victory and that certainly provided, perhaps, the margin of victory.

CAMPAIGN WORKER: So what we need to do is discuss the best ways to get out in teams and individually-

NARRATOR: Since declaring her candidacy, Braun has received more than 4,000 calls from people wanting to volunteer for her campaign. Braun is no newcomer to the political arena. She’s currently serving as recorder of deeds for Cook County in Chicago, the highest elected office in Cook County ever held by an African-American woman. Braun also served for 10 years as a representative to the state legislature and was assistant majority leader at the statehouse. In addition to administering a large bureaucracy and running for the U.S. Senate, Braun is also a single, divorced mother of a teenage son.

INTRODUCER: She’s a mother. She’s a legislator. She’s a lawyer.

The next senator from the state of Illinois, Carol Moseley Braun.

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: My mother’s an invalid, so I’ve had to – I mean, I’ve cared for her and him and it’s worked and I’m just going to have to make the necessary arrangements for it to work.

NARRATOR: The race for November is on and the schedule is rigorous. It’s 10:00 AM and this is Braun’s second event today. Here, she’s addressing Chicago’s Coalition for the Homeless.

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: And lo and behold, I became the Democratic nominee. And I became the Democratic nominee precisely because in a democracy, it’s how many votes you get, not how much money you have.

NARRATOR: In the November election Braun will run against a Republican opponent, Rich Williamson, who has never held an elected office before. He was, however, an adviser to Bush, so he has the full support of the Republican Party. The Democratic Party first hedged on Braun’s candidacy, but is now fully backing her campaign.

SUPPORTER: A Jane Addams T-shirt and –

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: That’s a large.

SUPPORTER: -a collection of over $400 that we collected at the door.


SUPPORTER: Thank you so much.

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: Thank you very much.

NARRATOR: At the Jane Addams School of Social Work at Chicago’s University of Illinois, Braun is reminded that the National Association of Social Workers was the first nationwide organization to support her candidacy for Senator.

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: I mean, all through the campaign I was dogged by questions, and I do mean – there was a point I got even testy when asked, ”Well, how much money have you raised? How much money do you have,” OK? A little objectionable because there was a presumption that, as a woman, I could not raise the money. OK, start with that. So that was objectionable and I always made the point, “Well, the fellows don’t get asked this question like I do.” You know, a guy walks in and says, “I’ve got $5 million of my own money to spend,” nobody asks to see a checkbook. Me, I have to go out and show – take a bond out on my accountant.

NARRATOR: It’s 2:00 PM and Braun hasn’t had a break in today’s schedule yet.

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: When the Iron Curtain fell, we discovered that our domestic priorities had not been addressed, that our dollars were not coming back and the average, ordinary citizen, the taxpayers, said, “Enough.” The taxpayers said, “This is ridiculous. These are our dollars. These are not military dollars versus domestic dollars. These are our dollars.”

SUPPORTER: She represents diversity in a legislative body that has none. For me personally, she represents a pro-choice vote in the Senate and I’m – I’m terrified of Roe v. Wade being overturned.

DEMONSTRATORS: We won’t go back! We won’t go back! We won’t go back!

NARRATOR: Despite being raised as a Catholic, Braun is a pro-choice candidate who was one of the front marchers and speakers at the April 5th pro-choice march in Washington, D.C.

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: We will not go back to the Dark Ages and to the back alley. Choice is a matter that goes to the heart of our Constitution and our Constitutional rights.

NARRATOR: Braun’s Republican opponent, Rich Williamson, changed from an anti-choice to a pro-choice candidate, but recently backed off from his pro-choice position.

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: Women ought to have a voice in the government. We’re half the population. You know, African-Americans ought to have some representation somewhere in the – in the policy – making reaches of government, as other minorities, because if you add all those people up, really what you have is a majority. So what you have, then, is a maturing of our society and a maturing of our democracy so that it is no longer just the province or the preserve of millionaire white men, that it’s opening up and out of our diversity will come the strength to save our country.

BILL MOYERS: In her story, Carol Moseley Braun raises the issue of money, and that’s a subject that concerns Jane Danowitz, who is the executive director of the Women’s Campaign Fund. It’s a bipartisan organization devoted to providing early support and funding for women candidates for state and federal offices.

Jane Danowitz, Carol Moseley Braun’s victory could be described as a fluke because she had two male opponents and the other man running against Senator Dixon was a very rich man who spent a small fortune attacking Senator Dixon, so that over here, Ms. Braun slipped through most – slipped through and – while nobody was really paying attention.

Can it really be described as a victory for women, in that sense?

JANE DANOWITZ, Women’s Campaign Fund: Oh, absolutely, and I think if we witnessed what’s gone on in the past couple of months, it’s clear that Carol Moseley Braun’s victory was not a fluke. If you take a look at what Lynn Yeakel, for example, has done in Pennsylvania with her stunning primary victory and her right to take on Arlen Specter in the fall, it’s clear that we’re talking about women candidates and women winning. Yes, money is clearly going to be a factor in American politics, like it or not. That’s just the way it is. But I think one of the things Carol Moseley Braun’s victory has done is demonstrate that message is equally as important and that for the first time, we really see women candidates being given almost instant credit, an instant credibility.

HARRIET WOODS: The survey of the Women’s Campaign Fund we did in the fall showed that voters are – again, they’re fed up with business as usual. They want change. And I’ll be real honest. I think outside – women are outsiders, even when they’re inside. And I think they feel that – that Congress is deadlocked, government’s deadlocked. It’s time we tried something else. And they see women, and I think that’s our message to them, in many cases.

BILL MOYERS: Well, let me ask Lynn Martin, who’s with us, Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin, who first ran successfully for the statehouse in Illinois in 1971 and then served 10 years – to ’72, then served 10 years in Congress and has been in President Bush’s cabinet now for over a year – is it true –

LYNN MARTIN, U.S. Secretary of Labor: And who served with Carol Moseley Braun.

BILL MOYERS: And who served with Carol Moseley – is it true –

SECY. LYNN MARTIN: And she chaired the campaign against me, so it isn’t just – I say we’re friends – No, we’re friends, so I think you’ve got to be a little careful in this and I think that’s important to note, that people still have political parties and still have views on things. It wasn’t wrong for Carol – I mean, I was a woman, non-millionaire, all the things that now everyone’s saying should win, running against, you know, a complete – and a very nice person. A lot of these guys are, by the way – maybe I’ll say a nice word about both Democrats and guys once in a while – who had tons of money. So it isn’t – you have to have the timing and right now – it may not be everything in politics, but it’s close. And right now what you have is people looking – and I don’t think it’s just the Congress but, you know, they’re on their ritual suicidal missions, it seems, every day. You have people saying, ”Wait a minute. We used to hear how women couldn’t do it” – and women sort of said, “Gee, am I good enough?” You take a look and, bluntly, what they’re seeing is, “Maybe we could draw from a hat.” This is not something that, you know, looks – they’re much better than they’re looking this year. It’s absolutely true.

BILL MOYERS: Harriet Woods said that women are still outsiders even though they’re inside and I turned to you because you’ve been an insider now for 20 years. Do you feel like an outsider?

SECY. LYNN MARTIN: I think there’s two things that happen. Whenever I’m in a group in the work I do, I’m a minority. Now, you may look – we’re joking about, “Gee, Bill, what does it feel like?” and you say, ”Well” –

BILL MOYERS: To be a minority.

SECY. LYNN MARTIN: I’m used to that every day and I suppose it would be nice once in a while if men got to do that, too. When I went to the Congress in 1981 to join Pat and others, there were four women elected and it made every television show. I mean, that was so phenomenal! Now, the next year, by the way, there were only two elected. There have not been these huge increases.

HARRIET WOODS: Baby steps.

SECY. LYNN MARTIN: And so this leap – when you look at the names for vice president on the Democratic – supposedly these top five – I’m going to give her a compliment. I’m appalled that Pat Schroeder, who considered running for president, isn’t one of those. So we still have some ways to go in both parties.

PANELIST: She should be running this time around.

BILL MOYERS: Congresswoman Pat Schroeder-

SECY. LYNN MARTIN: Yes. That’s her choice, though. That’s her choice.

BILL MOYERS: Pat Schroeder, you went to Congress in 1971, wasn’t it – ’72?

Rep. PAT SCHROEDER (D-CO) : I got elected in ’72, went in ’73.

BILL MOYERS: Elected in ’72. You’re now the senior woman in Congress and you’re co-chair of the women’s caucus in Congress. What was it like 20 years ago when you arrived there, as a woman?

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: Oh, my. It was very crazy. I mean, I had a two-year-old and a six-year-old and a husband. And every time we would go to line up for anything, even swearing in, I mean, the speaker came and put my husband’s hand up. He kept saying, “No, no, no. It’s her.” And we would go line up for things and-

BILL MOYERS: Were the men unnerved? Were the men unnerved?

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: There were an awful lot of people who wanted me to assure them I was a fluke. They’d say, “You’re a fluke, aren’t you? I mean, something strange happened in Colorado. It’s probably altitude or something.” You know, I mean, “Surely this isn’t going to happen across America,” because at that time, I remember there were stories about how the Congress of the United States represented 4 percent of the population – over 55, white, with a very high income level and college education, and that was 4 percent of the population and that was the strong majority. Now, my desire this year – because after 20 years I am getting very impatient – I can tell you that we may be a Republican and a Democrat, but we worked together on a lot of work and family issues and women’s issues and had an awful lot of consensus-

BILL MOYERS: Do you still feel an outsider?

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: I feel very much an outsider.

BILL MOYERS: Even after 20 years?

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: Yes. I mean, there’s only 28 of us. And my picture that I want this year – I’m so sorry we can’t do this on your TV show, because a picture’s worth a thousand words. You start with your intro of what made your staff angry. Imagine a picture of the House floor of 406 women and 28 males. I mean, people would say, “Wait a minute.” Or the Senate floor with 98 women and two males. I think the men in America would say-

HARRIET WOODS: But that’s what 1992 is all about.

PANELIST: That’s right. That’s what it’s about.

HARRIET WOODS: Women are really the best candidates for both parties

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: That’s right.

HARRIET WOODS: – this year.

BILL MOYERS: All right. Let’s look at a woman who wants to – a Republican woman like Lynn Martin, who wants to join you in Congress and try to be part of that – that new picture at the State of the Union message next year. Her name is Susan Stokes. She is a candidate for Congress in Louisville, Kentucky. She had other motivations for running. Here’s Gail Pellett’s report.

SUSAN STOKES: I’m Susan Stokes.

1st VOTER: Hi.

REP. SUSAN STOKES: I am running for Congress on the Republican ticket.

The Clarence Thomas hearings did not enter my mind at all when I made this decision. The Clarence Thomas hearings have a whole lot to do with other people’s reactions to my candidacy, though, Which I find very interesting. And that – that’s real important. I mean, I’m listening to that.

NARRATOR: [voice-over] Susan Stokes lives in Rolling Fields, an affluent suburb of Louisville, Kentucky. Her husband’s an ophthalmologist and her three children are all college age. Stokes, a state representative, is running for Congress here and campaign headquarters are in her basement.

REP. SUSAN STOKES: If it’s a close primary, it’ll make a big, big difference to us. I care very much about women issues, but I care very much more about people issues.

NARRATOR: In her two terms as a Republican representative in the overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature in Kentucky, Stokes made waves as an outspoken newcomer who challenged house leaders.

REP. SUSAN STOKES: I don’t think I set about to challenge the old boys’ network. I just have a tendency of asking questions and seeking answers.

NARRATOR: One important bill that Stokes questioned was the educational reform bill of 1990.

REP. SUSAN STOKES: I was handed a bill that was 940 pages long and told we were to vote on it in less than five working days. I went to the speaker of the house. I told him I was – had a lot of problems, but I had five specific problems and I told him what they were. Three of those he didn’t know were in the bill and I just said, “Have you not read the bill?” And he said, “No, it’s 940 pages.” So when we voted on the bill, I voted against it and it was very difficult for me to do that. And then I spoke up on the house floor against the process of consideration because I felt the process was very important, considering it was the landmark issue of the 90’s for Kentucky. I was later told that I probably had put my district in jeopardy and I said, “I can’t place a vote based on my future districts.”

NARRATOR: Stokes had been told right. When the redrawing of legislative districts took place late last year, the map was drawn around her house. A few blocks of her old district was attached to a more urban district that belonged to another representative very popular in that community. Stokes no longer had a district.

REP. SUSAN STOKES: But I’m not the only victim of redistricting in Kentucky. Our lines were drawn to preserve incumbency of those in favor. So basically what I’ve done is made a commitment to be the memory for this state. We’re not going to forget 10 years from now when we do it again.

NARRATOR: Stokes’s response to losing her district was to run for Congress against a 22-year Democratic incumbent, Romano Mazzoli.

REP. SUSAN STOKES: I’m Susan Stokes. I’m a Republican-

I’m running in a four-way primary May 26th. If I win that primary,

I’ll be running against the incumbent, Ron Mazzoli.

I’m going to conduct my campaign the same way we always have in the past.

Are you a registered Republican?

2nd VOTER: Yes.

REP. SUSAN STOKES: Oh, OK. I didn’t have your name – We’ll put our feet to the pavement and knock on doors and go to situations where we can meet voters.

2nd VOTER: I’m glad to see some Republicans are out, finally.


And try in our mailings to make them know that we’re willing to talk to them if they want to talk to us.

I’m Susan Stokes. I’m running for Congress.

NARRATOR: When Stokes decided to run for Congress, she called on the same group of women who helped her when she ran for the statehouse, a group of friends who played tennis and raised their kids together. In the past, Stokes raised all her money this way, through direct mail campaigns.

REP. SUSAN STOKES: So what I’m having to do now that I haven’t had to do previously is reach into the business community for the larger donations, the larger support, because it takes so much more money to run effectively as a challenger for Congress.

NARRATOR: Today Stokes is seeking help with campaign financing from a group of business leaders at Citizens Fidelity Bank in downtown Louisville. They include the bank president and vice president, as well as CEO’s from several local corporations.

REP. SUSAN STOKES: I can’t tell you that it’s going to be harder to raise money because I’m a woman. I think it’s difficult to raise money as a challenger. They still want to back a winner.

1st BUSINESSMAN: Is there a major issue right now in the campaign?

REP. SUSAN STOKES: In the primary campaign

1st BUSINESSMAN: major issue.

REP. SUSAN STOKES: That’s right. If there is, probably it will be abortion.

2nd BUSINESSMAN: If you succeed in the primary, and I gather your view is – is one of choice, how do you think that will square with the national Republican platform?

REP. SUSAN STOKES: I’d like to say that we would have an influence. I’d like to say that if we won this primary strongly, that that would send one more message to the Republican National Committee that they needed to strongly consider modifying their platform. I know that there are two Republican choice organizations working extremely hard to modify that. I don’t know whether they’ll be able to do it or not.

I will tell you that I think it’s inconsistent that Republicans have taken a national position against choice on abortion. They want to have choices in education. They want to have choices in healthcare. They want to have choices in how to run their business. They don’t want government involved. But on abortion and gun control, they’re taking the opposite position and I feel it’s very inconsistent. So I guess what I would say is, I’m probably a Republican that’s more consistent.

3rd BUSINESSMAN: Do you think the Republican Party nationally is just plain out of touch?

REP. SUSAN STOKES: On some issues, but I think so is the Democrat Party. I think a lot of the political leadership is out of touch, really.

NARRATOR: Mazzoli, the Democratic incumbent that Stokes hopes to challenge after her primary, is anti-choice and opposed to taking PAC money.

REP. SUSAN STOKES: Ron Mazzoli is not taking PAC money and he’s limited his contributions to $100. I have – as a challenger, I can’t afford to do that. I don’t have the advantages of incumbency that he has.

And I think maybe I can – I can equal, at least equal his money if I work at it.

NARRATOR: After pitching for money and support, Stokes is questioned about her positions on the environment, the federal deficit and health care.

REP. SUSAN STOKES: I have a real commitment to the private sector. I really, honestly feel that we have not a good job with the government delivery of health care.

NARRATOR: And will they give money to a woman candidate? Will gender affect their decision to support Stokes?

4th BUSINESSMAN: Well, I would say I don’t do lunches like this with many politicians, as Buddy said. I know Susan. She has been my state representative. I have watched her in Frankfort be independent and I’ve watched what it cost her and I’ve admired that. And it’s that independence which I support.

5th BUSINESSMAN: The decision to give is political and it’s philosophical and it’s really, in many cases, the perception of whether or not it’s money well spent, the chance of winning, and where an incumbent obviously has a much greater advantage. I really don’t think the fact that Susan is a woman would enter into that decision.

1ST WOMEN’S CAUCUS MEMBER: [at caucus meeting} This is the time for women in politics.

NARRATOR: Stokes has received financial support from the Women’s Campaign Fund, as well as an endorsement from this organization, the Kentucky Women’s Political Caucus.

1st WOMEN’S CAUCUS MEMBER: The other good news is, we have two women running from the state of Kentucky for Congress, and that’s-

NARRATOR: It’s affiliated with the national Women’s Political Caucus, a bipartisan organization that supports and trains women running for political office.

1st WOMEN’S CAUCUS MEMBER: The bad news is that Kentucky still ranks last, tied for last place, in the number of women in our state legislature. What we’re here today for is to take advantage of all the talent in the caucus and to think very creatively about-

NARRATOR: [voice-over} Stokes is one of only two Republicans in this room.

2nd WOMEN’S CAUCUS MEMBER: Susan Johns, state senator. I think one area that we might – we haven’t overlooked, but haven’t touched on yet, is young women and bringing young women into the fold in politics. I think right now some of them are turned off about what they hear in politics and having to go against the good old boy network. And I think what we need to do is, as elected officials and those who are running and whatever, is mentor those younger women and bring them into the fold, to develop the whole system.

3rd WOMEN’S CAUCUS MEMBER: My idea is, take advantage of the givens already. Take advantage of the givens. We’re more honest, more ethical, more creative, more intelligent. I mean, why go for equality? We’ve got superiority.

4th WOMEN’S CAUCUS MEMBER: But I really believe one of the main reasons women don’t run for office is they can’t figure out how they can have a job, take care of their families and run for office, too.

5th WOMEN’S CAUCUS MEMBER: You have to have someone in the household who picks up the slack. And for women who are thinking about running, you have to start long before you get into the race.

REP. SUSAN STOKES: I agree. I think – I had to pick and choose my times. Personally, I don’t think I could have done it, given my husband’s profession and the demands that are placed on him. He was not available to pick up the slack of car pools and that type of thing. I personally had to wait until that part of it was almost done. It’s not easy. I doesn’t matter how much help you have.

NARRATOR: Will women cross party lines to vote for a pro-choice candidate this year?

6th WOMEN’S CAUCUS MEMBER: I think that you will find very strong Democratic voters that will be crossing over in the November election and I think that you will find women who are not outspoken about choice, who don’t want to talk about it to their neighbors or to their best friends, going to the ballot booth and voting for the person who is the choice candidate.

7th WOMEN’S CAUCUS MEMBER: It’s a priority in my campaign because I’m being asked wherever I go. I believe that health care and the economy and the educational reform are the three biggest things that I have in my campaign. I just can’t go anyplace without being asked about choice.

2nd WOMEN’S CAUCUS MEMBER: Partisan politics are kind of going by the wayside. I think people are looking for good people in office and not necessarily whether they’re Republican or Democrat.

3rd WOMEN’S CAUCUS MEMBER: I can support Susan Stokes with no problem.

7th WOMEN’S CAUCUS MEMBER: If things don’t –

3rd WOMEN’S CAUCUS MEMBER: Because she’s a sign of the future. Yes, I’m a Democrat and I’m an assistant Kenton County attorney and I’m a member of the executive board in Kenton County and I know other members who could easily make the crossover choice because we’ve got to get away from this issue of, “I must vote because I’m described by a word.” No, I have to vote because of the way that I feel is appropriate and I have to vote my conscience and my conscience says we’ve allowed the back-room, cigar politics to rule us and get us into a position where we’ve painted ourselves in the corner now. There’s no place to go. We may leave footprints on the way out, but by damn, we’d better get out of here. Excuse me. I didn’t mean to say “damn” on national television.

BILL MOYERS: Like Susan Stokes, Vicki Miles-LaGrange got her start at the local level in politics. She defeated a 22-year incumbent when she ran for the Oklahoma statehouse in 1986. Senator Miles-LaGrange is the first woman to chair the judiciary committee there.

And I want to put you on the spot by asking you, do you really think it makes any difference that women are in politics? Pat Schroeder said earlier that if you had 430 women up there instead of 430 men, you really would get a different kind of government. Do you think that’s so? And what difference?

VICKI MILES-LaGRANGE, State Senator (D-OK) : I think it’s absolutely true. Women being the natural child bearers of our society, I think we do tend to be more compassionate. I think we do tend to be more moralistic in our thinking. The kinds of issues that, if I look at the Oklahoma state legislature, the senate in particular, the kinds of issues that women are bringing forth are those quality-of-life issues that affect children and families, which to me is the most basic structure of government. There’s been such a deterioration of the American family, particularly over the last decade. You know, I don’t know when we’re going to make parenting a national priority. The kind of decrease in federal funds that we have seen going to local governments – you know, people are working more for less, with less support systems. So I think women do really make a difference.

BILL MOYERS: But you said that women are more compassionate. Look at this picture of Ann Richards, governor of Texas, and – when she was running, she ran this picture in her political campaign. She wanted to show that she was tough.

PANELIST: But that’s a different-

Sen. VICKI MILES-LaGRANGE: No, I think you can definitely be tough and compassionate. Some of the most- [crosstalk] Some of the most difficult legislation on a local level that I have tried to pass – it was brought forth, certainly, because of my compassion, be it maternal and infant care, providing pre-natal care for 22 counties that had no access at all, mammograms, mandated coverage for that. On the minority issue – and I don’t know. When I was in my mother’s womb, I don’t know if I was black first or female first, so-

BILL MOYERS: Democrat or Republican.

Sen. VICKI MILES-LaGRANGE: So therefore those issues, those racial issues which affect people of different colors, are also of prime importance to me. But you have to be tough, too.

HARRIET WOODS: But don’t you think that really what we’re talking about is ef-fectiveness? I think women want to cut through all this ritual and – that has been created by the traditions and say, “Let’s solve the problems.” Many of them go to the legislature because they want to solve a problem and that’s why they’re there. And more than that, I think they really bring a different notion of what power and process should be and that’s what’s so exciting. I mean, it’s not just electing numbers.

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: I’m the one who got in trouble for shedding tears, so if we’re going to talk about tough-

BILL MOYERS: When you were running for president.

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: -I think that’s always directed at me, right. Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: When you were running for president, you announced that you were not – you were getting out of the race –

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: Absolutely. And when the whole group groaned, I shed a few tears and you would have thought I had a total breakdown. There were all these people saying, “Well, you can’t have anybody,” you know, “with their finger on the button that cries.” My feeling was, I don’t know that I want anybody’s finger on the button that doesn’t cry, to be perfectly honest. But since then it’s been very interesting because I have kept a “crying file” and in that was also Margaret Thatcher, but Ronald Reagan you know, George Bush has been very open about all that. And it’s very interesting that the press never rails about the men crying. Sununu’s leaving the legislature in New Hampshire was about a 14-hanky event and nobody, you know, went into that, either. It’s – it’s very interesting that we want the men to cry because that shows compassion, but we’ve got women in this role where if one tear, it’s, like, “Oh” – so I think, in a way, we don’t want Madam Iron Britches, I don’t think. I think what we want is effectiveness and I think Harriet hit the button, and so did Vicki, that you want an effectiveness and you want to know that yes, they know what they’re going to do and they’re not going to get bulldozed by these guys. I don’t think anybody ever thought I’d get bulldozed, for heaven’s sakes.

BILL MOYERS: Secretary Martin, do you think it would have made a difference, as it has been suggested elsewhere, if the seven members of the Senate judging the Thomas-Hill hearings had been female instead of male?

SECY. LYNN MARTIN: You know, we’ll never know, will we? And I think that’s part of it. For those who would argue that automatically there’d be a difference – you know, I’m trying to remember back at the – at the polling data, not because that’s how you vote, but after the fact, it seemed a majority of Americans, both men and women, for instance, thought Justice Thomas should be confirmed, so I don’t think it was just quite that issue. It was the way it was looked at. So I kept coming back to it was almost the attitude that sexual harassment wasn’t important, and boy, did they learn a lesson on that, it seems to me. And secondly, the conversations I remember – and this is maybe outside of politics. I’m talking about friends here. There was a difference between men and women, not necessarily on how they felt or who’s lying or any of those – the attitude and what was harassment and how it made you feel like a jerk and you hadn’t been able to say anything.

HARRIET WOODS: It’s the life experience you bring to it.

SECY. LYNN MARTIN: So women have always said, “I’m not good enough.” A guy sells used cars, nice guy. He puts down on his campaign brochure, “Involved in interstate and international trade.” A woman has a master’s in urban planning, she says, “I’m a housewife.” That was suddenly seeing at the beginning not of new arrogance, that’s not what we want from women, but saying, “You know what? I can, I should,” maybe even “I must be part of this process.”

HARRIET WOODS: Don’t you think there are more women who are positioned –

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: If I can go back to Bill’s question, ”Would it make a difference?” which I think is a very important one and we hear that a lot – I can say from working in the Congress, it clearly does make a difference. Practically all of the women are in agreement on women’s health issues, on the glass ceiling issues and so forth-

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

SECY. LYNN MARTIN: Mammograms. Take an easy one.

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: Mammograms – I mean, look, the rest of the Congress doesn’t feel threatened by breast cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, osteoporosis-

BILL MOYERS: Right. Life experiences.

SECY. LYNN MARTIN: But they’re getting better. But they wouldn’t have if Pat Schroeder hadn’t been pushing.

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: Same with sexual harassment. Same with the glass ceiling. I mean, this wonderful-

BILL MOYERS: “Glass ceiling” being? {crosstalk]

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: The glass ceiling being how you can’t move above the glass ceiling. Now, she was terrific. She-

BILL MOYERS: Well, wait. Explain that. What’s the “glass ceiling”?

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: Well, that you don’t get above a certain level.

HARRIET WOODS: One of the problems we have, and the Thomas hearings showed it to us, that this eruption – a lot of those women had always said, ”We lead such stressed and stretched lives” – you know, jobs, managing a household, caretakers – “we don’t have time to be part of the political process. We don’t have time to give contributions, to run for office, to get appointed.” Well, what we’re learning is that’s part of breaking that glass ceiling, being a player.

JANE DANOWITZ: And I think what’s significant, again, about this year is that has all changed and I think we see for the first time women running for office because they are women and running as women and women voting for women-

PANELIST: {off-camera] Good point.

JANE DANOWITZ: – precisely because they’re not Democrats or Republicans, but because they are women. And, you know, I think that causes a lot of people consternation, but the bottom line is, as we all know, men have been doing it for years. I mean, you can look in the White House or in the halls of the Congress to find scores of men who have run as astronauts or they’ve run as sports heroes or they’ve run as prisoners of war or they’ve run as priests or ministers, all things that are obviously highly touted in this society and also very male-oriented. And I ask you, you know, does being a P.O.W. in Hanoi, does that qualify you – how does that qualify you for being in the United States Congress any more than raising two children and knowing the problems of education or child care or making a living?


SECY. LYNN MARTIN: Don’t diminish difficult things people go through.

Sen. VICKI MILES-LaGRANGE: I think this glass ceiling that we’re talking about – I’m reminded of what my grandmother used to always say. She used to say, “Honey, you have to be twice as good to get half as much.” And I really didn’t know what she was talking about and I guess I could apply that in an ethnic context, as an African-American in America, and I can really apply that as a female in a male-dominated world. But I tell you what, I really believe women are coming into their own and getting a confidence. Do you know how much skill it takes to manage a home? Somehow we didn’t give the same kind of validity to that type of experience.

BILL MOYERS: Very true in Oklahoma. I was born in Oklahoma. I know some-thing about what you were up against. How did you break the glass ceiling?

Sen. VICKI MILES-LaGRANGE: Grass roots politics works.

BILL MOYERS: What does that mean?

Sen. VICKI MILES-LaGRANGE: That means I quit my job as a prosecuting attorney and I took my message to the people and I got out there and I –

BILL MOYERS: Door to door, like Susan Stokes?

Sen. VICKI MILES-LaGRANGE: Exactly. I knocked doors every day and it works.

BILL MOYERS: What did you run up against when you

Sen. VICKI MILES-LaGRANGE: A lot of doors-

BILL MOYERS: Is a black woman in Oklahoma, running-

Sen. VICKI MILES-LaGRANGE: A lot of doors being slammed in my face, and the more that were slammed, the harder I knocked. And trying to articulate the message – you know, for so many, there’s so much distrust in government now. Somehow we’ve got to get back to correlating how registering to vote, how exercising that right to vote can make a difference in your quality of life. We’ve gotten away from that and making the correlation between what I do at the state capital really does have a direct impact on quality of life, so that’s why it’s important for me to have more women in the halls of government. That’s why it’s important for me to have more minorities and –

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: She’s so right because the power issues are not issues about little kids. Have you ever seen two-year-olds coming in, saying “Toddler power,” you know? They’re not about families. They’re not about the things that really make the quality of life so important.

BILL MOYERS: They are instead?

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: Those are – well, they’re about the B-2 bomber and they’re about the Seawolf submarine and they’re about all the things the PAC’s circulate around, money circulates around and so forth. And Washington, D.C., sees itself as the most powerful capital of the most powerful nation, so we discuss power issues, and they aren’t kids and they aren’t work and family issues and they aren’t the women’s health agenda and so forth. But gradually, we’re wedging in there and the women do stand together to keep that wedge going.

SECY. LYNN MARTIN: This is how two friends can occasionally differ and be strong, I hope powerful, women. I think the B-2 and the Seawolf are powerful issues and so what I think we want to see is a greater range of powerful issues and perhaps that’s what Pat is saying. But I don’t think we can diminish defense, the future, and women are capable. They’re competent. They’re able. It suddenly hit us – at the Department of Labor, we’re literally talking about it. We are all pioneers, just as our great-great-grandparents were. We are pioneers. This is the first generation where, to any extent, men and women are beginning to work together as equals.

HARRIET WOODS: And what really concerns me is a kind of a backlash, which has been partly referred to, which is, “Oh, you just want women to vote for women.” You know, it’s just a – “It’s an Affirmative Action kind of thing.” And I think what we want to say is, it’s quite the opposite. We’re saying that society benefits. We’re not asking you for a favor. We are saying that if you want government to function better, if you want decisions to be made reflecting what’s going on in the lives of people and therefore make better decisions, if you want hope for the future, if you want to find a way that you can get control of your lives, then you will want more women there because of their own qualities, because they’ve been missing from the decisions and because, indeed, if you want to hold a mirror up to government, it ought to reflect all of us.

BILL MOYERS: Let’s come to this very tough, touchy subject of abortion. Is abortion this year a defining issue, as far as women are concerned?

HARRIET WOODS: Oh, I think it’s a bedrock issue. It’s part of the issues, though, in terms of controlling your life. See, I think people want to separate it out as if it’s something unique. I see it as part of a whole fabric of all those things that people are concerned about who want to – who want themselves to make the decisions on those things that will determine what future they have for themselves and their family.

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: No, I think it’s, like, a fundamental. It’s not even an issue, really. It’s a fundamental about how a government treats over half its population and I think that’s why there’s so much rising sentiment around it.

BILL MOYERS: But Pat, that may be a principled argument but politically, more women voted in 1980, ’84 and ’88 for the presidential candidates who were against abortion than voted for the pro-abortion Democratic candidate.

HARRIET WOODS: There was still a gender gap and I think there are a whole range of reasons why people vote for a president. I think it’s important to- {crosstalk]

SECY. LYNN MARTIN: And they do vote for a president for different reasons. All of us know women who are pro-choice and pro-life in each of our parties. In some, I would think – you know, everybody wants these simple answers. I don’t think there is one. In some elections, it’s going to be a driving issue. In others, it’s not. When you vote for president of the United States, it’s one of many issues, and we saw that.

BILL MOYERS: But if Susan Stokes wins in Kentucky and becomes a Republican pro-choice member of Congress, is it – doesn’t she have a glass ceiling on her ability to rise as a leader of the Republican Party?

SECY. LYNN MARTIN: The first woman ever elected to leadership in either party, actually, it turns out – {crosstalk] I would say that within each party, there might be people who would not vote for you either way on that – do you see what I’m saying? There might be a Republican or a Democrat that will make that, just as a voter may. I lost a leadership fight for – by two – by two votes. Could it or couldn’t it have been an issue? I don’t know, but you know, at some point you make your decision on where you’re going to be and you move ahead beyond it. And I must tell you that you – I don’t think there’s anyone issue anybody can run on and win. You’d better be a complete candidate. You’d better have things for men and women. And for many younger women, it is still going to be – and older women, but younger women, especially, it is going to be an issue they’re going to ask, because I’ve actually had candidates say, “Can we avoid it?” And I say, “Geez, Louise, at least be what you are and be there.”

Sen. VICKI MILES-LaGRANGE: I think choice on the abortion issue will be a very important issue in the elections of this fall, but I see an interesting parallel. While women are really talking about the pro-choice issue in America, I think what we saw in Los Angeles concerns issues of choice – choice about whether or not I have a job, choice about whether or not I have decent housing, choice about whether or not I have affordable health care, choice about the quality and condition of my life. So I hope that we begin to see some tracking of the emergence of the two movements and for me, choice is a very broad issue.

BILL MOYERS: We’re almost out of time. Let me just ask each one of you – we’ll go around the table starting with you, Senator. Could Bush, Clinton or Perot draw the running – the winning card if they picked a woman as a running mate?

Sen. VICKI MILES-LaGRANGE: I don’t know. Certainly not just a woman for the sake of a woman, but for a woman who certainly stands for the things that are going to hit home for the average American citizen.

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: I think it would help them. Again, we’ve got to know who the woman is, but on the other hand, it can’t look like they’re going to just use them as a cheerleader. They’ve got to allow them to be a leader. And I think it’s very important to break through that glass ceiling because we’ve never had a secretary of defense, secretary of state, secretary of the treasury or attorney general that’s female. Those are the big four positions. This is the ultimate tree house. No girls apply.

BILL MOYERS: Secretary Martin?

SECY. LYNN MARTIN: Well, we’re climbing those trees. And the answer is, “Maybe.” But you’re going to eventually vote for president and all of them, including my president and yours, the current president, Perot and Clinton – I’m assuming he will be the nominee – are going to have to answer questions from intelligent women across this country who will not be bought off by the old sophisms of the past.

BILL MOYERS: Jane Danowitz?

JANE DANOWITZ: I think it would help all of them. I must say that looking around this table, I’m sorry that you, Secretary Martin, aren’t on the Republican ticket. But I think we should also, when we’re talking about vice president, talk about the presidency because I think if there’s a tragedy in 1992 for women, it’s that there’s not a woman running for president this year. And I hope when we’re back in four years, if you’ll allow us—


JANE DANOWITZ: -that we’re going to be talking about a woman running at the top of the ticket.

HARRIET WOODS: Well, both Pat Schroeder and Lynn Martin were on our list to be those vice presidential candidates. But I think the important thing is, it should be on the basis that women are winners, that they can bring something to the ticket, not on a tokenism or because we’re trying to appease any particular group.

BILL MOYERS: Isn’t the issue really, your goal is not to be a novelty any longer?

PANELIST: That’s correct.

BILL MOYERS: You really want equal representation. Isn’t that essentially what-

SECY. LYNN MARTIN: For years we’ve fought the idea of being stereotyped. We don’t want to be stereotyped in reverse. We want the best people. It’s just that most of us at this table think often the best person’s a woman.

HARRIET WOODS: That’s right. [crosstalk] [audience applause]

BILL MOYERS: My audience is biased.

Sen. VICKI MILES-LaGRANGE: I was just going to say—

SECY. LYNN MARTIN: I think they’re quite rational, myself.

Sen. VICKI MILES-LaGRANGE: – there is no woman elected official or aspiring woman elected official that I know that wants anything less than competence and integrity. And I think we bring that. I know we do.

REP. PAT SCHROEDER: We’re up to here with foolishness.

JANE DANOWITZ: I was going to say, as the woman on the tape said, ”Why settle for equality when we can have superiority?”

BILL MOYERS: My partner and wife, Judith Davidson, handed me a quote from Sojourner Truth. Just before this broadcast ends – we’re out of time, but this is a good concluding note. “If the first woman God ever made could turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to get it right side up again.” Well, that’s a good motto for this table. I believe you could get it right side up again. Thanks to each one of you for joining us. And thanks to you for Listening to America with us this evening. I’m Bill Moyers. Good night.

POLICE CHIEF: It’s time to recognize that we have to reduce the number of guns on the street, certainly not increase it, as some people might have us do.

EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: There’s a war going on in our streets that’s far bigger than anything that happened in Vietnam.

BILL MOYERS: Violent crime is on the rise, 25,000 people murdered in America last year.

MAN: Crime has always been out of hand in America. This country was based and built on the premise of violence and we shouldn’t be surprised that the violence is continually being perpetuated to this day.

BILL MOYERS: Citizens are taking action themselves and demanding more action from police.

WOMAN: Well, first we have to eliminate that fear and that mistrust that exists between the community and the police.

NEIGHBORHOOD PATROL MEMBER: We’ve tried everything to stop the shooting around here and it looks like this is what it takes to stop the shooting.

BILL MOYERS: “So Violent a Nation” next time on Listening to America.

You can view more about the series Listening To America on this website.

This transcript was entered on April 3, 2015.

  • submit to reddit