Extended inteview with EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock

04/11/11 Dawn Morgan Elliott
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EMILY’s List is a political action committee that raises money for pro-choice women Democratic candidates. This weekend Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock was in Tampa raising to fund their programs. It was hosted by former Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena.

WMNF’s Dawn Morgan Elliott spoke with Schriock about the recent decrease in the number of women in state and national politics. An abbreviated version of this interview aired on the WMNF News. Here is the complete interview.

"EMILY’s List got started 26 years ago really means “Early money is like yeast,” the theory is that it helps make the dough rise. That’s where we were as women running for office 26 yeas ago, is we were in need of a network of women donors to support candidates, and that’s exactly the backbone of EMILY’s List."

You wrote recently on the EMILY’s List blog that women make up 17% of Congress. Can you explain that disparity and the problems that come with that lack of presence?

"It is shocking to me even after working in Democratic politics for 15 years that women are only 17 percent of Congress. And to put a finer point on that number, the United States is 90th, nine zero, 90th in the world for the percentage of women elected to office in our country. It is really a shocking statistic. And part of it truly is the fact that so many incumbents win races in this country. That’s fine except when all of your incumbents for two centuries were mostly men. And so we take opportunities everywhere we can get them. If there's an open seat we are in there and that really is the best shot we have of getting women into office. That's very much what we focus on doing."

One of the highlights on the website was of Ann Richards in 1990 winning the governorship of Texas. What was significance about that race?

"It was the first governor’s race EMILY's List really got involved with. To see a strong woman, like Ann Richards win in Texas, where there’s still not a lot of women in office, was just a significant sign that we were moving in the right direction. When EL started in 1985, not a single Democratic woman, in the history of our nation, had won a seat in the U.S. senate, in her own right. Maybe she had gotten the seat because her husband passed away, but we had never won a seat. Governors, we had won a few prior to that, but that Ann Richards victory she was motivating. She was a wonderful, wonderful speaker and governor. It's sad that we've lost her now, but it really was a rallying cry to get involved in politics for women around the country. She’s such a role model. I’m still moved by what she did for all of us."

Recently Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus wrote that the number of female state legislators fell by 1% percent this year, which is equal to 81 positions. What can you say about that?

"Ruth's article is very, very good. We did slip in the percentage of women in state legislatures. In fact, in Congress this last election resulted in the first decline in the percentage of women in Congress in over 30 years. What that really is about, this last November, is that the election was really dominated by the Republican Party, as we well know, and Republicans won, Democrats lost. In that, because there's not nearly as many women in the Republican Party, we lost grounds. And as I look at it, and we see a significant amount of opportunity in 2012 to regain a lot of seats that we lost in 2010, and we’re really busy recruiting women all over the country, including right here in Florida, to run for the House of Representatives to gain that back and to even start increasing our numbers again."

Part of the mission of EL is to support Democrat candidates who support a woman’s right to choose. Do you think there will ever come a time in America when the issue is simply up to the individual woman and her partner?

"Boy, I’d like to hope that some time in our lifetime that we’ll get to a place where we just allow individuals in this country to make personal choices about their health. We are not quite there and in fact in the last 3 months, particularly of Congress but also in the state legislatures including, again, right here in Florida, we have seen some very extreme positions to start moving the clock backwards after decades of fighting for women’s freedoms. There’s a sense that we should be, as they have said even about some of our members of Congress, back in the kitchen. There's this really sad moment. We are at a tipping point, and if we don’t continue focusing on the importance of women, and women’s abilities to make choices about their life, all kinds of choices, whether its health or family, or career, if we don't keep focusing on that, we will start losing it. And that is why EL continues to be committed to electing pro-choice Democratic women and feels strongly, more so than ever, that this is the time to really focus on these issues."

Focusing on EL in Florida. Was the fundraiser today for a particular individual?

"No, our event today was really an opportunity to do two things. One, we're raising funds for EMILY's List and our political program around the country. I mentioned earlier that we are focusing on recruiting candidates for the U.S House of Representatives, for the Senate. We also do a lot of candidate trainings, in fact we're planning on doing 3 trainings here in Florida this year, for women to run for all sorts of offices, whether it's the legislature or if they want to run for county commissioner. We feel very strongly we need more Democratic women in the pipeline. So today was an opportunity to share with folks here in Tampa and this area about the work we do. We were very fortunate to have a number of our members, some of which have been with us for 25 years here, and some new faces as well. We feel, at this time, it's an incredible moment for all of us to reach out to our networks of women and men who care about empowering women. We’re growing, and that’s part of my focus this year at EL."

EL started off with a few women in a basement w/ rolodexes.

"It really is a wonderful, wonderful story. I’ll start with our founder and current chair of our board, Ellen Malcolm, really was instrumental not just in staring EL but in changing the face of power in this country. This group of women based in Washington D.C. realized, after a terrible Senate race in 1982, that Democratic women who were running didn’t have a source of any money. They would go to the Party structure, to the progressive structure, and there just wasn’t the resources for those women that we would like to see. They realized that only by building a network to fund individual candidates were we going to get anybody elected. And so they pulled together all their rolodexes at the time and they sent out a letter to their friends, family, colleagues around the country and asked folks to do two things: one, support EL to find candidates to run, and to commit to two checks, just two checks, to Democratic women candidates around the country and because of that, in 1986, Barbara Mikulski, who’s the now-senator from MD, won her Senate seat. Being the first Democratic woman to win a Senate seat in her own right in our history. So it’s really about that direct support to candidates and they still need it, and we’re still doing it today."

I don’t know if this is the official slogan, but it’s prominent on the EL website: “When women vote, women win!” Can you expand on that?

"I’m going to clarify it even more so, “When women vote, Democratic women win!” And Democrats win. And we see this continuing gender gap between the Democratic party and the Republican party. And it’s why I feel it’s so important to recruit so many more women this year on the Democratic side because I see such an opportunity as women around this country are watching the war on women that the Republican party has begun waging on all of them, whether you’re a senior citizen who depends on Social Security and Medicare, or if you’re a young woman who depends on birth control, all of this is under attack, and this is our time to come together multi-generations and insure that we elect more Democratic women and that’s exactly what we’re going to do."

What’s the significance of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as the next chair of the DNC?

"I just have to start by saying we are so excited for Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to be the chair of the DNC. I think President Obama and his team's decision to have her take this on is so wonderful and exactly the right thing to do. She has been such an amazing spokeswoman, not just for Florida and her constituents in Florida which she does such an amazing job, but also for women and families in this country. She's willing to stand up, to fight hard, she’ll carry this mantle for us in the Democratic party this entire cycle and I honestly cannot think of a better choice for the DNC. We are thrilled."

A recent study by the Harvard Institute of Politics cited that nearly “twice as many Millennials view community service as “honorable” as compared to running for office.” Is this a sign of disenchantment with politics in general, and will take themselves out of politics and voting?

"I don’t believe that. I think that, first off, President Obama has been such a leader in promoting community service in this country, and I think those numbers reflect his leadership and how closely the youth vote, 18-30-year-olds, really, really support him and admire him as a role model. And I think as we start moving into this presidential election, this reelection of President Obama, we’re going to see, again, like we did in 2008, a just rejuvenated youth vote. Granted, they stayed at home in 2010, but I do believe that the power of President Obama to motivate young people in this country is going to be seen, and seen at an even higher level this year."

Anything I haven’t touched on?

"I just, again, want to briefly touch on how important it is for women and men in this country who care about electing Democratic women to stand up. If we needed a reminder of how important elections are, last November was it. And what we have received is a Republican bait and switch. Where they talked about the economy and jobs, and instead waged a war on women. And it’s just beginning. It is going to be two years of attacks on our health care system, our education system, and instead of talking about the economy and jobs, there’s a sense by the Republican party to undermine all of the advances we’ve made over 30, 40 years of work. So this is the time to get involved. We're going to need everybody to stand up and fight."

You said that you’ve been in Democratic politics for 15 years. What did you do before that?

"I’ve been blessed with a number of opportunities over the years. I’ve managed campaigns including John Tester in Montana which is a U.S. Senate race in 2006 and Al Franken’s U.S. Senate race and recount in 2008. Prior to that I was a fundraiser and was the national finance director for Howard Dean’s Presidential campaign. But I will say my very first race I was the finance director for this wonderful EMILY’s List woman in Minnesota by the name of Mary Reader. That's how I got started in Democratic politics. So I’ve made a full circle back to EMILY’s List."

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