By Linda Vega
There are approximately 26 million people in Texas, and 55 percent are women. Given these numbers, you would believe that women have a significant presence at the political level, but it’s not the case, especially in Congress. While women are busy raising families and working, the political arena lacks their presence.
Of the 38 politicians representing Texas in D.C. –36 House Members and two Senators– only 3 are women. In the Texas government, out of 180 legislators only 37 are women—20 democrats and 18 Republicans. Women are less than 21 percent of the Texas Legislature. Consequently, women have unequal representation in Congress and Austin, even though Texas women had a 59.5% voter turnout in 2012, and are 55% of registered voters.
The GOP does not have a single female Hispanic Representative in the Texas Legislature, which is alarming considering that there are 38 Hispanics in the Legislature, Hispanics make only 21 percent even though Hispanics in Texas are 38 percent of the population. The common thought is that Hispanics have little political representation because they don’t vote. But what about women? Women vote in larger numbers than men, and yet they have dismal representation in Austin and D.C.
Many factors contribute to this political underrepresentation, and atop of the list is money. Running for office is not for people with limited resources because it requires a “war chest” that will pay for the campaign, and this takes time to build. Women have a more difficult time in raising money, because they lack access to the large corporations and PACs. Thus, for millions of women in Texas, the only way to partake in the political process is by voting for men, who have amassed a large war chest and who undoubtedly will now represent women on multiple issues.
Additionally, women are still perceived by political insiders as soldiers not as generals. In Texas, we have Republican women clubs that are very active in politics. These conservative clubs rally the votes and hold hundreds of door-to-door get-out-the vote events. Yet, when it comes time to vote, these women have no other choice but to vote for male a Republican candidate over a Democrat. In essence, women are perceived as good “soldiers” who can rally the votes, but not as “generals” who can lead in Austin or Congress. These are cultural and structural problems that are ripe for a change.
When I decided to run for U.S. Senate it was because I wanted to partake in the writing of laws that were affecting me, my family, my work, and the future of my children. No one “groomed” me to be a U.S. Senatorial Candidate, nor was I tapped on the shoulder by top officials telling me, “it’s time to run.” In fact, I was discouraged from running by my own male Republican colleagues. But we were able to carry our message of limited government, job creation, healthcare, and education, with only $2000, because Texans were eager for a candidate whom they could relate to and who talked about real issues
I don’t know why Comptroller Susan Combs soon will leave politics, or former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson left, but their departure left a vacuum in women leadership within the Texas GOP. Political talk seems to stall at the reproductive topic when asking for the female vote. Or as State Comptroller Susan Combs stated, “It is not all south of the waistline…all you want to talk about is my biology, ‘Gee what happened to my brain?’
I’m often asked to come to events and speak about women issues. However, when it comes to policy issues, I am asked to show only after the policy or press release has already been written mostly by men. Through a photo, they attempt to demonstrate that their document or bill has the support of women and a Latina, and frankly it’s insulting.
It is no secret that Wendy Davis will lose against Greg Abbott, Her role was never to win but to simply lay the groundwork for Hillary in 2016, as Democrats have long known the importance of the female vote. And as far as my party, the GOP, we are still desperately seeking female Generals to step up out of the soldier status, to talk about their brain and less about biology.
The only people who can change this are women. If more women step forward to run for office, we can demonstrate that our interests are not settled at biology. We are mothers, entrepreneurs, leaders who are interested in other issues which include rebuilding America.
Linda Vega is The Founder of Latinos Ready to Vote and a former Candidate for the U.S. Senate from Texas. You can read more on her campaign website Lindavegafortexas.net