Women of Influence recognition for journalist Soledad O'Brien and Rep. Kathy Castor
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10/21/11 Josh Holton
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On Wednesday the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce held its fifth annual Women of Influence Luncheon. This year’s guest was CNN’s Soledad O’Brien. She is among the growing number of women who is coming into positions of prestige.

One notable woman of influence locally has been Democratic US Representative Kathy Castor, whose district includes the City of Tampa. Although she has held her seat for the past five years, her district is one seat that might drastically change when new districts are drawn according to new redistricting amendments in the Florida Constitution. She supports drawing the districts fairly.

“I strongly support the fair districts constitutional amendment and the Florida legislator will have to follow those new parameters that all of the voters throughout the state have now instituted through our Florida constitution. The Voting Rights Act also comes into play. It has protected areas especially racial minorities and language minorities. It hasn’t focused in on sex discrimination and the court cases haven’t touched upon that.”

But there is a bi-partisan lawsuit against the new amendments filed in part by US Democratic Representative Corrine Brown, who is concerned she might lose some support from minority populations. Castor argues that fair districts would open up the playing field for women too.

“What we really need in Florida are some fair districts. The congressional delegation is skewed. We are a 50/50 state and yet. The Republican Party has an overwhelming amount of representatives in congress. I hope that once we have more fair districts that more women will run for office. The United States Congress is only about 15% to 16% female right now and that’s not reflective of the United States of America where we’re a little more than 50% of the population.”

Castor is optimistic for women in Tampa, and she said the city already has had strong representation in positions of power.

“Females owning businesses are 30% of the small business market. That’s terrific! We also have a history in Tampa of strong female leaders in government, education, and in business. At one point over the last few years we had a female mayor, majorities on the county commission on the school board, female school superintendent, president of the University of South Florida, and even the commander of MacDill Air force Base, so Tampa is known for strong female leaders in business and in government.”

She told the crowd of about 800 women that the American Jobs act contains provisions that would support small businesses as they grow.

“We have got to support our small business owners to put our economy back on track. Past portions of the American Jobs Act ensure that you all know about the small business tax credit under the affordable care act that will now pay 35% of your premiums for health insurance for your employees, by 2014 that’s going to be 50% of your health.”

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien has received several awards for her journalism, filing reports during Hurricane Katrina and Japan’s earthquake and tsunami this year. She has also made several documentaries on Muslims in America, African Americans, and more. She said that having more women owning small businesses can serve as an inspiration for others.

“Whenever I talk to a group of women who are entrepreneurs I always get the sense that’s there’s two fronts that people want to work on. One, they want to be successful business people, it’s the bottom line. If you are not successful then you’ve done nobody any good. But number two, you want to bring people along and feel that your personal success has had a value in the world that’s just bigger than you. That people you can inspire just by virtue of being a successful woman in business. Also you can make people realize that these obstacles are surmountable.”

Janet Harrison works for Ecoasset Solutions, a company that tries to help big businesses become more sustainable.

“Personally I’m very involved with sustainable businesses in Tampa. I’ve already seen a lot of people that I’ve worked with before. So it’s nice to see us crossing paths here. In seeing women that are of influence on our community who are becoming more sustainably focused within their corporations and public sector organizations.”

A mother of four, O’Brien has a multi-racial background. When asked if there is reverse racism, or favoritism for minorities in a business or a newsroom, she said there can never be enough voices at the table. She said that while her race and her motherhood never stopped her from following a good story, it was her willingness to investigate that has proven to be the most effective in the newsroom.

“I think in New York certainly it’s very easy to sit at our desks and have no clue what’s happening in the rest of the country. I think it’s appalling. Partly connected when people would say, I don’t understand Occupy Wall Street…really? Well then drive down the 25 minutes to where it’s happening and talk to people! There’s a sense of palpable anger right now and try to understand it. So I think that on one hand, you really need a lot of voices around the table, certainly we do in doing documentaries. Then also of course you want to be hired for great skill. I don’t want to just cover the stories of working moms. I don’t want to just cover black stories and Latino stories. I want to fight to do every good story. I think there’s no question about that.”

While CNN has focused on specific groups like Latinos, homosexuals, and women for their “In America” series, O’Brien hopes that rather than merely focusing on one group at a time, that there will be more stories about women or minorities in general so that their news coverage will become common, and not just a one time special.

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