Tennessee women can change the course of politics next year

The Tennessean. December 13, 2017.

They came out in the pouring rain last month. They stood in line, and they didn’t leave until they had their say.

Voters in Virginia – especially progressive women, minority voters, and younger people – had a lot on their minds.

Democrats didn’t really have to work that hard to lure voters. When Nazis and unhooded Klansmen showed up in Charlottesville this summer, and the President blamed “many sides,” Virginians didn’t forget in November.

Virginia’s winning candidates talked about schools, transportation, health care and treating people with respect.  The candidates at the top of the ticket were professionals with political chops: a pediatrician and Army veteran, an African American former federal prosecutor, and an attorney and former local official who fought for marriage equality.

Control of the Virginia legislature now hangs in the balance, with four races undergoing recounts. If control flips to the Democrats, it’s women who are largely responsible.

Eight of those 14 seats (and counting) were won by Democratic women, including two Latinas, the first Asian American woman in the legislature and Danica Roem, the first transgendered woman to be elected to a legislature anywhere in America. Her key campaign issue? Traffic.

Virginia voters were sick and tired of being embarrassed by the President and being fed messages about high crime and a poor economy in a low-crime state that is enjoying an economic boom.

Voters, especially women, didn’t fall for it. Women voters chose Governor-elect Ralph Northam by a whopping 23-point margin.

Voters responded to the ugliness of our recent political culture by choosing candidates who embodied change.  In the aftermath of so many horrific mass shootings, who better to elect than the boyfriend of the news reporter who was shot dead on live television two years ago?

After a campaign featuring dog whistle ads about the dangers of immigration, why not pull the lever for women named Guzman and Ayala?

What does Virginia’s election say about Tennessee? We already know, because Knoxville had an important election last month, too. There, women quadrupled their representation on the city council, including the election of the first Indian American woman. On a council of nine, women have almost achieved gender parity.

In 2016, we helped recruit 24 progressive women to run for the Tennessee legislature on a platform stressing health care. They all lost, but they learned what it takes to make change. Many of them are now leaders in their communities, organizing voters for 2018.

The lessons of recent elections should inspire more women to step up to run all over Tennessee. They could join the record number of women nationwide who are running in 2018. Too many seats go uncontested year after year, under the assumption that they aren’t “winnable.”

Women who won in Virginia last month were told the same thing.

The next time someone asks “what to do” when the President demeans other Americans, tries to take away our health care, threatens nuclear war, endorses an alleged child molester for the US Senate and promotes a tax bill that takes from middle income families to give to the rich, the answer is simple.

Say you’ll run. Or promise to stand in line on Election Day – even in the pouring rain — to support those who do.

Bonnie Dow is a co-founder and treasurer of Women for Tennessee’s Future, an organization that supports women candidates. Lisa Quigley is chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper.


Read the article on the Tennessean.