Maureen Feighan: Women candidates running on Tuesday to 'be the change they want to see'
Years ago, I was working as a Metro reporter at our paper when a colleague working in in a coveted department decided to retire, leaving an opening.
I never even considered applying for the job. I wasn't qualified, I told myself, and didn't have the "right" experience, even though I'd already been a journalist for more than a decade. I suggested a co-worker, who sat right next to me, apply.
She looked at me and scoffed.
"Why don't you apply?" she said.
A light-bulb went off. Why not me? So I applied. And to my astonishment, I got the job.
Nearly two years after Democrats everywhere were stunned by Donald Trump's victory, thousands of women across the country are asking themselves -- and their states, city councils and communities -- the same thing: "Why not me?"
A record number of women are running for office in Tuesday's election, not just in Michigan but across the country. And they're not just Democrats. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, a record 16 women -- 12 Democrats and 4 Republicans -- have been nominated for gubernatorial seats this year, up from the previous record of 10, first set in 1994.
And nearly 3,400 women are vying for seats in state legislatures around the country, up from the previous record of 2,649 set in 2016.
In Michigan, 123 women -- 75 Democrats and 48 Republicans -- are running for a seat in the state Legislature on Tuesday. In fact, the state Senate is poised to potentially double the number of women in office, from four to eight women.
And voters could elect Michigan's first Asian-American state senator, Stephanie Chang, and the first Latina senator, either Erika Geiss, Poppy Sias-Hernandez, or Jeanette Schipper, said Shannon Garrett, co-founder of the nonpartisan organization VoteRunLead which offers training and support to women considering a run for political office. And that diversity is incredibly important, she says.
"We have people making decisions that impact our lives every day and if you don't feel like your voice is represented in there then you don't trust that the government is doing right by you," said Garrett.
But even if Michigan voters double the number of women in the state senate on Tuesday, "it's not enough," says Garrett. "It's a start."
A start indeed. Before Trump was elected, Garrett said about 50 to 60 women would express interest in a VoteRunLead webinar. Since the 2016 election, 12,000 women have gone through training, either online or as part of a daylong seminar. More than 170 of those women were from Michigan.
It's not just about getting women to run. VoteRunLead urges women "to run as you are."
"What happens is when people run for office is (they start to think) that they need to act like a politician or talk like a politician," said Garrett. "What we encourage is for women to own their own experiences and expertise. That's needed at the table when we're making these decisions.
"Your role in your career, regardless of what career you follow, your education, your role as a mother, a community member, a volunteer," said Garrett. "Those are all valuable experiences that are often being left out of the conversation when we're making policy decisions."
Mona Shand is making her first run at elected office, running for state representative in Livingston County's 42nd District. A run for office had always been on the mother of three's radar. She saw as the next step in a life of service as a teacher, Americorps volunteer and journalist.
"Being a journalist covering and analyzing the Capitol and the decisions coming out of Lansing for the past few years is what really motivated me," said Shand, a Democrat. "I don't see those decisions as lining up with what we say we value as Michiganders."
And while Shand says she's faced no backlash in her bid for office, Garrett says talked to other female candidates who've been asked not to run, told to wait their turn or "you're not ready yet."
"But they're doing it anyway," she said. "They know that they need a voice."
And whether or not women are elected en masse on Tuesday or not, Garrett believes it will be different than the last "Year of the Woman," in 1992, when there was an uptick of women in high level offices and then the numbers went back down. This time, "I think we've built a movement," she said.
"I see it as the year that women are changing history," Garrett said. Women are running "to be the change they want to see."