WeToo III: Looking for a Few Good Women
Women have never achieved parity with their male colleagues in the California Legislature. Many advocates believe that could change before the end of the decade, but getting there is hardly a given.
Susannah Delano, Executive Director at Close the Gap California, a group that recruits progressive women to run for office, says her organization identified 96 possible open seats for the four election cycles from 2022-2028. But that number is fluid. Close the Gap anticipated only eight open seats for the 2022 election. There were eventually almost 40.
No matter the eventual number, Delano says it is only a small part of what it will take to reach parity.
“If all it took was open seats, we would’ve seen California get a lot closer to parity after 2016 when there were a ton of them,” she says. “Women were not even 40 percent of legislative candidates in California, even in 2022*. So if more than 50 percent of the candidate field is not women, it doesn’t matter how well trained or well-funded they are, we’re not going to catch up for a couple hundred years.”
To that end, she says groups like hers, Emerge and those on the other side of the political fence have made recruitment, support and training of good women candidates their top priority. And a big part of that, regardless of party or political beliefs, is getting women first to see themselves as a viable candidate.
There is an old saw that says women need to be asked to run on average seven times before they will sign on. Not everyone agrees with this, but recent studies from the University of Virginia and Rutgers University in New Jersey show women are far more likely to need to be nudged toward running than will a man.
Freshman Assemblymember Gail Pellerin, a Santa Cruz Democrat, knows that firsthand. A few years ago she was helping to recruit a female candidate to run when then-Assemblymember Mark Stone termed out in 2024, a search that intensified when Stone opted to retire in 2022 rather than seeking a final term. In spite of having 35 years of public service experience – including seven working in the Capitol – she wasn’t even thinking about seeking the job herself.
“I kept asking women and they kept saying no,” she says, but always with the same suggestion: she would make a great candidate.
“It just it kept coming back to me, so here I am,” she says.
“So many women just don’t think of themselves in that way,” says longtime Democratic strategist and fundraiser Katie Merrill. “If you ask a woman who’s a leader in business or a non-profit about running, she’ll so often say she has never even thought about it or doesn’t see how her experience is relevant.”