WOMEN TO .WATCH. For profiles of Senator Wendy Davis and representatives Carol Kent and Kristi Thibaut, check out the Observer’s neIN Legislature page at: a. www,texasobservenorg opponent she’d be facing in ’08. Annie’s List researchers found, though, that the GOP voter base in Thibaut’s highly diverse district was weakening. Even so, “You can have the right district and be the best candidate in the world:’ says Thibaut, a former legislative aide and well-known community activist, “and if you don’t have the resources to get your message out, you can just forget it. Not only did Annie’s List make a huge commitment money-wise, they also gave me a staffer and paid for him. He’s going to be on my staff in Austin now.” What difference does it make to have more women legislators? The classic answer, supported by several academic studies, is that women tend to focus on issues that hit close to home, quite literally. Women have been more likely to sponsor legislation to improve education, pay equity, health care and family-leave policies, andno surpriseto defend reproductive rights and combat sexual and domestic violence. “Ultimately,” says Annie’s List executive director and fundraising whiz Bree Buchanan, “electing more women is a means to an end. What we really want is to promote a progressive agenda.” The Annie’s List legislators have been fairly effective on those issues thus far, especially considering that it generally takes a few terms for House and Senate members to accrue the power to push their bills through. Both Gonzales and Bolton were named “freshmen” of the year by different groups after their first terms. Rep. Ellen Cohen, the former head of the Houston Area Women’s Center whom Annie’s List helped send to Austin in 2006, notes that she “passed a bill that raised funds for sexualassault programsthe only revenue-raising fee in the entire session:’ But the women Annie’s List has elevated to the Legislature are hardly carbon copies, ideologically or otherwise. They are all pro-choice, but beyond that, they’re a varied lot. “I took some positions that would look conservative to a lot of people says Davis. While serving on the Fort Worth Council, she fought an effort by local police and firefighters to unionize. And she made a point of working “with people Democratic candidates are often not comfortable with, Chamber of Commerce and Rotary folks:’ But Davis was assured by Annie’s List and the state Democratic Party, she says, that they were ready to support “someone who’s moderate, who has a proven record of working across the aisle to get things done:’ “People think Annie’s List people are all working for a particular agenda:’ says Carol Kent, former president of the Richardson school board and a self-described moderate who unseated a Republican incumbent in 2008. “But there’s not a mindset to this. There’s no dictate to it” Cohen agrees. During her campaigns, she says, “Annie’s List gave me that solid rock I could turn to whenever I needed additional advice. But they didn’t try and get involved where they shouldn’t. It wasn’t, ‘We’re helping you and giving you funds and you have to do it this way: ” What Annie’s List legislators do have in common, most of them agree, involves more legislative style than substance. “The main difference says Bolton, “is not what we focus on but how we focus on it. Women tend to be more collaborative and less competitive. There’s an emphasis on the process, and on finding win-win solutions!’ “Women are mediators by DNA:’ Gonzales says. “We’re good at being able to work with others. You always negotiate in families, and women are often the go-betweens. Women have sometimes a softer and more diplomatic way:’ and in terms of being effective in the Legislature, that’s often “what it’s all about. So many times the vote comes so quickly that people will vote with the person they trust and who you know is being honest with you:’ The effectiveness of the Annie’s list legislators will not be hurt, this session, by the fact that all of them were among the 64 Democrats who signed a pledge not to support the re-election of Republican Speaker Tom Craddick, crippling his effort to win back the gavel. In December, they were all among the 85 House members who committed to support Joe Straus, the new, less ideological Republican speaker. At the Lege, the women say they are no longer treated as an exotic or invisible species. In Farenthold’s terms, everybody knows they’re there. Of course, during campaigns, they still run up against the occasional stereotype, like the time last fall when Maldonado was asked if her hairdo was modeled after Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s \(the been wearing it longer and better than Sarah,” she responded. And moved on. At times, though, ifs appears that running as a woman brings decided advantages in the current climate of “change:’ Kent will never forget one day on the trail last summer. “It’s mid-July, and hot hot hot. I’ve been walking the Garland area, knocking on doors, for far more hours than I probably should have been. I come to one more door and knock, knock, knock. I hear some rustling behind the door. You can always tell when someone’s peeked out and decided not to answer. “So I leave behind some literature, head out and turn down the sidewalk again. I hear the door creaking open back there, and suddenly this man is running after me, calling out, ‘Wait! Wait!’ He says, ‘I want you to know that I’m supporting you: I thought, `HmmmI didn’t even have a chance to tell you what I’m standing for: But he says, ‘I’m supporting every woman who runs this time. Men have run everything for so long, I’m supporting the women!’ “And you know, I was about to pack it in for the day. But after that, I couldn’t help wanting to go and knock on 20 more doors:’ mtvmm, wkr ,w” .m5mmmrwmw., ,JANUARY 23, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13
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