Calling all women voters

NewsdayFebruary 19, 2014 

If you’re a woman and you vote, prepare to become very popular.

Democrats and left-leaning groups are jockeying to hold onto congressional seats in this year’s midterm elections by appealing to voters’ economic misery and sense of fairness. They are cultivating women generally, and moms in particular.

“Today’s policies for women and children need some cleaning up,” reads an invitation to a Long Island workshop sponsored by the National Association of Mothers’ Centers.

The invitation depicts the U.S. Capitol, a baby and a smiling woman with a broom. She’s apparently there to sweep up what President Barack Obama called “Mad Men”-era workplace policies last month in his State of the Union address.

NAMC, a support and advocacy organization, wants to advance paid family and medical leave and paid sick days, as well as universal pre-K and affordable child care. Increasing the minimum wage and fair pay for men and women are also on the agenda.

NAMC’s advocacy coordinator, Valerie Young, who is based in Washington, says her calendar is jammed with related events: briefings and panel discussions with think tanks and congressional committees.

“In the past, one event would happen, and then our issues would sink below the surface,” she said. “Now I can’t keep up with them.”

These are vital supports for families, but can they generate enough backing to become law?

Last month, the Working Families Organization and other groups held a town hall forum on women’s economic equality. Hosted by actress Cynthia Nixon and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the dial-in conference drew 16,000 participants.

Valerie Ervin, the new executive director of the Manhattan-based Center for Working Families, said the strikes by fast-food workers and others to raise the minimum wage has built momentum for family-friendly reforms. Two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women.

“There’s a real alignment of what have been traditionally thought of as women’s issues; we see them as family issues,” said Ervin, who just completed eight years in elective office in Montgomery County, Md.

Many of the women running this year have school-age children – one fruit of the “Off The Sidelines” effort led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, which encourages women to get involved in shaping public policy. And Hillary Clinton’s visibility as a potential presidential candidate has heightened the anticipation that American politics would more often be wearing a skirt – or at least a pantsuit.

But as much as the DCCC would like to pack Congress, this midterm election is likely to tilt Republican – meaning that many family-friendly policies will be viewed as too expensive or as more “entitlements.” Advocates are wisely looking to state legislatures and city councils, instead, to pursue reforms.

It’s one more way that “women’s issues” are broadening to become everyone’s issues.

Anne Michaud is interactive editor for Newsday Opinion and a member of the Newsday editorial board. Readers may send her email at anne.michaud@newsday.com.

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