Last week, our founding editor wrote about a flyer entitled “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” which was used by the group “Project XX” to single out three Democratic female lawmakers – Laurie Funderburk, Elizabeth Munnerlyn and Mandy Norrell – who voted against two female nominees to the board of the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). Our editor, a man who is a self-described “libertarian conservative,” made his position on this list clear with the use of some pretty colorful language that I will not use here, so if you need more context, please refer to his piece.
As a female Democrat, I would like to weigh in on the publication of this list and its ramifications from my own perspective.
The stated aim of of Project XX is to “get smart women elected to public office and appointed to boards and commissions in South Carolina.” Given that women make up 51.3 percent of South Carolina’s population and 56 percent of its voting population, yet we have only one female state senator and 21 female state house members – which means only 12.9 percent of our state’s legislature for 2013 is female – the group’s goal is well-intentioned.
That women are sorely underrepresented in elective office in S.C., as well as on other policy-making bodies and in senior-level positions in our government, is not in dispute. The gender composition of our governing bodies simply does not reflect the constituencies represented.
While Project XX’s goal is admirable and, I would argue, desirable based on demographics, where it goes awry is in its tactics. A copy of the list, which shows how Democratic legislators voted on the MSUC Board nominees, may be viewed here.
Before I go any further, I’d like to know why Republican lawmakers’ votes weren’t circulated. If the goal is to get more smart women elected to these positions, and we’re going to hold lawmakers accountable for their votes on public board nominees, then why wouldn’t Project XX want to hold Republicans, who have majorities in both houses of our legislature, accountable for their votes, just as they appear to be holding Democrats accountable with this list? The answer can be found on Project XX’s own website:
“Our groundwork will focus on finding and supporting progressive women who will bring new voices to the political conversation in the state. We’ll draw sharp contrasts between the progressive policies of the women we support and those of the male-dominated field of candidates that has so far prevailed in our state.”
Ah. This is a group dedicated not to getting “smart women elected to public office and appointed to boards and commissions in South Carolina,” but to getting Democratic (progressive) women elected to those positions. That’s all well and good, but even as a Democratic woman myself, and one who would admittedly like to see more Democratic women in these positions, my primary criteria for selecting an officeholder aren’t political party or gender – my decision is based upon whether that person is qualified for office.
I don’t always vote for the Democratic candidate or the woman (if there is one running, which isn’t often enough) in a given election. There is a dearth of female officeholders in S.C., but voting on a candidate’s gender (or party) instead of on her relevant qualifications is not the right way to bring female representation more in line with S.C.’s demographics. Ensuring that female candidates have those relevant qualifications is a better tactic.
Now let’s look at how Project XX – at least in this flyer – defines “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly:”
“The Good” are those who “Chose to vote for TWO highly qualified women!”
“The Bad” are those who “Chose to vote for a man when they could easily have elected another highly qualified woman.”
“The Ugly” are those who “Chose the status quo by voting for BOTH men rather than electing two highly qualified women.”
Recruiting qualified women to run for these positions, promoting them, and educating voters – be they citizens or officeholders themselves – based on their relevant qualifications is a much better strategy than name-calling when your candidate wasn’t picked.
What Project XX is doing with this flyer is much more akin to shaming than it is to accountability. That is especially true when it comes to the three Democratic female legislators whose names, which were in the “Ugly” column, had two asterisks beside them – Laurie Funderburk, Elizabeth Munnerlyn and Mandy Norrell. Below the column is an explanation of the asterisks, which reads:
“**’There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,’ said Madeleine Albright. It’s worth noting that 3 out of 10 women legislators voted against both of the women (nominated for the MUSC Board positions).”
By using this quote from the first female U.S. Secretary of State in reference to these female lawmakers, Project XX isn’t helping other women, either. It is pitting Democrats against Democrats and, more importantly in this context, women against women, because of whom they chose to vote for in this particular election – specifically, because they cast their votes for men instead of women.
We cannot know the motives of the three legislators who where singled out for their choices, but the fact remains that the choices were theirs to make. They may have believed that the two men they voted for were more qualified than the two female candidates, or they may have been swayed by the candidates’ political ties, as the flyer suggests. But, given Project XX’s stated goal, its own definitions of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” and the Albright quote, those political ties were not the primary focus of the flyer. The primary focus was the candidates’ gender and the failure of three women legislators to vote for the two women candidates.
The members of Project XX who created this flyer in an attempt to shame these female lawmakers should rethink their political tactics, lest there be a special place reserved for them.
Amy Lazenby is a wife, mother of three and small business owner with her husband who splits her time between South Carolina and Georgia. She writes with a liberal world view on most issues, but enjoys exploring where the liberal and libertarian political axes intersect. Follow her on Twitter @Mrs_Laz.