By Jerry Zremski
The Buffalo News, N.Y.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Interesting look at the possible affect a female Presidency could have on women entering politics. Democratic consultant Amelia Showalter who did research on the subject while in graduate school at Harvard University suggests much could change. Showalter’s findings show successful women politicians seem to inspire other women to run for office.
A quarter century after first appearing on the national political scene, Hillary Clinton is, ironically, something entirely new: the first woman ever positioned to win a major political party’s nomination for president.
And that fact could have a dramatic impact not just on the nation’s capital, but on the gender balance of city councils and county legislatures from Buffalo to Bakersfield, and in state legislatures from Albany to Alaska.
At least that’s the hope of those who want more women to run for public office. What’s more, there’s some evidence that their hope may indeed become a reality.
For one thing, there are women — like Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and State Senate candidate Amber Small of Buffalo — who say Clinton already inspired them to enter public service.
And for another, there’s research indicating that women who succeed at running for public office inspire others to do so.
Of course, Clinton is by no means an inspiration to every public-spirited woman in America. She still inspires disdain among women who support the progressive agenda of Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, as well as among Republicans who portray her career as one long vapor trail of scandal.
But women who support Clinton said Wednesday that her history-making clinching of the Democratic nomination would change the way ambitious young women think about politics — as well as politics itself.
“I think it will inspire more women to run for Congress,” said Gillibrand, a Democrat who replaced Clinton as a U.S. senator representing New York in 2009. “They will be able to envision themselves in public service in a leadership position. And to have the commander in chief, to have the greatest leader in our land be a woman — that would not only encourage them but inspire them to dream big.”
Gillibrand — founder of “Off the Sidelines,” an organization dedicated to getting women involved in public life — said her own life story proves that in politics, one woman’s success can beget another’s. She has long said that Clinton’s trip to China as first lady in 1995, and her advocacy of women’s rights on that trip, inspired her to later campaign for Clinton in her 2000 Senate bid and then later run for office herself.
Similarly, Small — who is running for the Buffalo-based State Senate seat being vacated by Marc Panepinto — said Clinton has long served as a role model for her as well.
“I’ve always been interested in public service but not necessarily electoral politics because so few women are involved,” Small said. “But Hillary Clinton has been an inspiration to me, especially when you consider all the barriers she’s broken.”
Yet plenty of barriers remain. Gillibrand noted that only 20 of the 100 U.S. senators, 84 of the 435 House members, and 4 percent of corporate CEOs are women. That, she said, stands as proof that “systemic bias” continues to limit women in politics and the workplace. Small noted that Buffalo — unlike Rochester and Syracuse — has never elected a woman mayor, and that a woman has never filled the State Senate seat she is seeking.
Much could change, though, if the research that Democratic consultant Amelia Showalter did several years ago replicates itself nationwide if a woman president takes office.
Studying 30 years of electoral data in 49 states, Showalter found that states that elected a woman governor saw a 2.38 percentage increase in female representation in the state legislature over four years. States that elected a woman U.S. senator, meanwhile, saw a 2.88 percent rise in female representation in that time frame.
That might not sound like much of a change, but it is when compared to the national average, which shows only a 0.2 percent annual increase in female membership in state legislatures.
In other words, successful women politicians seem to inspire other women to run for office, said Showalter, who did that research while in graduate school at Harvard University.
“I tend to think that if you were to have a woman president, it would have as great an effect” on motivating women to run nationwide as female senators and governors have had in individual states, Showalter said.
But female supporters of Sanders said that’s no reason for them to support Clinton, whom they see as a candidate who’s too close to Wall Street, too comfortable with corporate campaign contributions and too hawkish in world affairs.
“The more I find out about her, the more I support Bernie,” said Wendy Mitchell, 34, a wedding photographer from Alden, who added: “I have absolute disgust for people who think that electing a first anything is more important than looking at the qualifications that person would put forward in that office.”
Meantime, Republican commentators like Ann Coulter continue to portray Clinton as a scheming politico who has been involved in what they see as one scandal after another, from Whitewater to Benghazi to her use of a private email server as secretary of state.
Coulter recently accused Clinton of running “a campaign built on lies,” and conservative colleague Laura Ingraham recently tweeted: “Hillary’s World: Where her own abysmal record on foreign policy is magically wiped away by cliches and claptrap.”
But to longtime Clinton supporters such as Eva Hassett, a onetime aide to former Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, Clinton’s ability to withstand such constant political pummeling is a sign of the kind of leader she would be.
“She has shown that someone — her — can succeed in the nasty, hateful world of politics, against all the attacks by running a positive, thoughtful, issue-oriented campaign about serving others,” Hassett said. “That in itself is instructive to women not only running for office but leading in any sector.”
Throughout her campaign, Clinton has endured criticism that she is “too shrill, too grating, not inspiring,” noted Diana Cihak of Buffalo, founder of WomenElect, an organization aimed at electing more women to public office.
Cihak labeled that criticism as “subconscious sexism” that no male candidate would ever face.
A key local organizer for Barack Obama in his 2008 primary battle against Clinton, Cihak said she came to be a believer in Clinton during her four years as secretary of state.
And now, Cihak hopes a President Hillary Clinton will do exactly what WomenElect is designed to do: prompt more women to run for office.
“Women will look at her and say: ‘If she can do it, maybe I can,'” Cihak said.