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PIERCING THE CLASS CEILING

Recently confirmed U.S. Attorney Janet Napolitano gets the biggest round of applause when dignitaries are introduced, but all eyes are on Cindy Resnick and Cathy Eden. The occasion, this December evening, is an opportunity to hear EMILY's List founder Ellen Malcolm speak.

Both Resnick and Eden, Democratic state legislators, are seriously considering running for the U.S. Senate seat Dennis DeConcini will vacate in January 1995. Eden stands immediately to Malcolm's left, her face cast downward, somber as she listens. Across the room, Resnick perches on a sofa arm, equally intent. Neither catches the eye of Claire Sargent, who has a prime viewing spot. Sargent, who failed to win an EMILY's List endorsement last year during her bid to unseat U.S. Senator John McCain, is also listening carefully--head high, arms folded across her chest.

The evening's guest list reads like a who's who of Arizona Democratic women. They crush into the living room of a sprawling, central Phoenix home, spilling into the bar area and kitchen, sipping wine and sparkling water.

Malcolm always draws a crowd--and support for EMILY's List (EMILY is an acronym for the unwieldy but unassailable political maxim Early Money Is Like Yeast--it rises). Her organization bundles individual donations from contributors nationwide and distributes the money to a select group of pro-choice, Democratic, women candidates.

The fact that Karan English won a $100,000 endorsement from EMILY's List in 1992 makes Malcolm and her list golden in the eyes of those assembled. She'll leave the soiree with $12,000 in checks--and the 1994 races have barely begun.

If she's aware of the tension in the room, Malcolm doesn't let on. In the wake of 1992's victories--resulting in part from the galvanizing effect of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings--there are more women candidates than ever. Arizona is one of four states in which more than one woman is considering a Senate race, Malcolm says. "Sometimes," she says with a bright smile, "it's an embarrassment of riches."

It is highly unlikely that EMILY's List will contribute to both women in a race, if it endorses a candidate at all. Resnick knows that. Eden knows that. Malcolm knows that. And each of the three knows just what that means. Karan English made the list and won a seat in Congress. Claire Sargent didn't accomplish either.

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@body:From 1933 to 37, a woman named Isabella Selmes Greenway represented Arizona in the U.S. House of Representatives. It was 55 years before Karan English broke the so-called "glass ceiling"--that transparent but firm obstacle that has long stalled American women in politics--by winning the right to represent the newly created Sixth Congressional District.

The region above the ceiling has traditionally been the province of congressmen, governors and, of course, presidents.

In Arizona, some say, the ceiling is concrete. Indeed, from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to Clinton special assistant for intergovernmental affairs Loretta Avent, the Arizona women who have entered the national political arena have almost always done so through appointments, not at the polls.

Arizona women have had a particularly difficult time getting elected to statewide or national-profile positions--especially when one considers the fact that women have become commonplace in offices that might be considered staircases that transcend the ceiling.

Nationally, Arizona has the second-highest percentage of women serving in a state legislature. Women have served on the Corporation Commission, as county supervisors and in all of the traditional "female" offices: clerk of the court, county recorder, superintendent of education.

Carolyn Warner, former superintendent of education, was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1986. Evan Mecham won that race.

When it came to getting a woman in at the top--as governor--Arizona had to wait for Mecham to be impeached. That allowed Rose Mofford to ascend to the Ninth Floor in 1988 through her position as secretary of state. After serving out Mecham's term, Mofford was politely shown the door by Democratic leaders, who opened one for Terry Goddard.

Queried today about her role as the state's first woman governor, Mofford acts as though her gender never occurred to her.

Undaunted, women from both sides of the aisle are talking about running for offices at the highest levels of government. Resnick and Eden may go for the U.S. Senate. There is a possibility that three women--former Scottsdale City Councilwoman Susan Bitter Smith, state Senator Bev Hermon, and attorney Linda Rawles--will vie for the Republican nomination in the First Congressional District.

Arizona State University administrator Ramona Ortega Liston, a Republican, has said she will challenge English.

And former Reagan Federal Aviation Administration official Barbara McConnell Barrett says she has received hundreds of calls, faxes and letters encouraging her to run in the wake of reports that she is considering challenging Governor Fife Symington next November. "I am now very seriously looking at the prospect," she says.

 

Despite such optimistic stargazing, the reality is that even with vital endorsements from national women's fund-raising organizations such as EMILY's List--or its pro-life counterpart, WISH List--the women who run in 1994 face an uphill battle. And that's if they choose to run. Some will end up like GOP state Representative Susan Gerard, who decided last month that she won't make a go for the Fourth Congressional District, even though observers say she had a good chance at nabbing the seat being vacated by U.S. Senate hopeful Jon Kyl.

The reality is that even Karan English will face a stiff test. She's been labeled one of the ten most vulnerable freshmen in Congress, and while EMILY's List brass wink at the congresswoman's early foibles, English's opponents won't.

The reality is that whether the ceiling is glass or concrete, Arizona women will bump their heads on it until fund raising becomes an equal-opportunity job. The ceiling will remain until the best, brightest women accept the challenge and run for the highest offices. Any wrong moves will set women back. One woman who is considering a run for public office in Arizona tells of a recent meeting with a nationally recognized political consultant. "I want you to know," he told her, "if you cry, I'm through with you."

"If a guy has a problem, it's an individual problem. If a woman has a problem, it's gender," the would-be candidate says. She has a point. When Bill Clinton gets teary-eyed, he's sensitive. When Pat Schroeder wells up, she's weak. And when Pat Schroeder is weak, all women are weak.

The cruelest irony is that women may be gaining a greater foothold in Congress because the job is losing its appeal for men. That's the contention of Scottsdale City Councilwoman Sam Campana, who has decided not to run for reelection next spring. She denies rumors that she's considering the 1996 Scottsdale mayoral race, or a run for Congress in 1994.

"Perks are gone. The fun is over. This is real hard work. There are no easy answers," Campana says. "There are campaign limitations on raising money. The way that it used to work isn't the way it works now. And men are less motivated to do that. It's kind of become women's work."
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@body:"They were nice," state Representative Polly Rosenbaum says of the men she served with in her early days at the state legislature, "but they were skeptical." Rosenbaum, 94, got into government the old-fashioned way: She was appointed to fill the seat of her husband when he died in 1949. The former government teacher has served her Globe district ever since. She knew she had been accepted when one of her colleagues, chastised for cursing in her presence, looked around and said, "Why, hell, I forget she's a woman. She thinks just like a man." Today, the legislature is filled with women--including in leadership.

Bob Grossfeld, a local media consultant who used to work at the legislature, recalls the joys of listening to Republican senators Pat Wright and Jan Brewer debate in committee. "It was like watching Lucy and Ethel," he says, hastily qualifying the observation as a compliment. He saw "an absolute honesty about them and a camaraderie between them." Is it related to gender? "I don't know," Grossfeld says, "but I've never seen two men behave that way." Today, observers say that Wright and Brewer are rivaled by their House counterparts, Lisa Graham and Susan Gerard. Both Graham and Gerard, Republicans, shirk at the labels "woman candidate" and "woman officeholder," but they recognize that as women, they bring a unique perspective to government. Graham recalls an episode in the House Judiciary Committee during the last legislative session. She and Gerard called their Republican colleague John Kaites to task for legislation he planned to sponsor called the "Drug Babies Bill." A provision of the bill would have required testing, in some instances, of the umbilical cord at the time of birth to determine if the mother was abusing drugs or alcohol, Graham says.

Graham and Gerard conferred, then jokingly suggested a "friendly amendment" mandating that all men be tested 24 hours before they have sexual intercourse--suggesting that by abusing substances, the father can also impact an unborn child. Kaites withdrew the legislation.

If their dominion is wavering in Arizona's legislative halls, there is no doubt that men still run the show when it comes to fund raising, the springboard to higher office.

Recently, efforts were made to create a fund-raising mechanism for women candidates in Arizona. Arizona WINS (Women's Initiative for National Seats) would act as a political-action committee, raising money and donating it to women candidates, says organizer Marcia Cech-Soucy.

 

At the first organizational meeting this fall, participants found themselves at odds about criteria. Cech-Soucy had envisioned a candidate review board, which would consider candidates individually--thus eliminating a litmus test for the abortion issue.

But Gloria Feldt, executive director of Arizona Planned Parenthood and a recognized power broker in the game of getting women elected, told those assembled that she's unwilling to support a PAC that supports pro-lifers.

And some of those assembled--including Representative Debbie McCune-Davis and secretary of state candidate Jane Hull--were peeved. "It became a discussion on right to life, right to choose," Hull, the former speaker of the Arizona House, says in disgust. "We didn't even begin to talk about the economy." Hull's not so sure that a women's PAC will work. "It's easy enough for U S West to have a PAC," she says, because the business has concrete objectives. Women, on the other hand, don't necessarily share common goals. The monetary benefits of a women's PAC may not be worth the political risks, Hull adds. "It makes the men mad."

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@body:State Representative Susan Gerard is ambitious. "Don't think I'm not looking at running for governor someday," she says, leveling her gaze across the desk of her office at the legislature. She's convincing. So's her reputation as a no-nonsense moderate Republican who entered politics in 1986 because she was sick of listening to the "idiots" in the legislature. Until recently, it was a foregone conclusion that Gerard would announce her candidacy for the Fourth Congressional District, the seat Kyl is vacating, in January. In late November, she changed her mind. Gerard says she wants to take advantage of her seniority in the House. If reelected, she'll be a fourth-termer and possibly in line for a leadership position. More important, though, Gerard started to think about the next legislative session, and the measures she could or couldn't sponsor--depending upon the whims of supporters for her congressional race. "I said, 'Oh, my God, I can't believe I'm starting to think that way,'" she says.

Family came into play. Gerard's children are in their teens, but she was wary of turning her household upside down. As for her husband? He was supportive, she says, but admitted his relief when she told him she'd decided against it.

The bottom line, she says, is fund raising. Consultants told her to plan to spend four hours a day on the phone--from now through the election. Gerard laughs. In the past, she has run her races from her kitchen table. "You can run legislative races and city council races with bake sales," she says. A run for Congress costs hundreds of thousands of dollars--that's a lot of Rice Krispies treats. @rule:

@body:Ellen Malcolm has concluded her presentation, and she is asked if there is a common thread among candidates anointed by EMILY's List.

EMILY's List candidates are "extremely committed to their communities," real "can-do women," Malcolm says.

As if on cue, Claire Sargent leans over. "Sounds like a profile of me," she says in a stage whisper laced with white wine. Malcolm finishes and starts to work her way through the crowd. She brushes past Sargent, careful to avert her gaze.

What Malcolm didn't mention is that her candidates must undergo what English describes as a "grueling" interview process--both written and in person--and be able to demonstrate that they can raise money on their own. Sargent's candidacy was fraught with problems. She rode the wave of the "Year of the Woman" to victory over Truman Spangrud in the Democratic primary, but from there, things fizzled. She didn't win important endorsements--or dollars--from EMILY's List or from other national women's organizations. Her refusal to sign a pledge of support for Senator Dennis DeConcini likely cost her thousands of dollars.

Then, of course, there's the candidate herself. Sargent drew ire for her liberal views, political naivet and emphasis on the "big picture." Even a year after Senator John McCain buried her at the polls, she still says, "I'm not a technician." She apparently fails to realize that her admitted disdain for economics and "details" reinforces the stereotype of the ill-informed woman.

Even with her troubles, an EMILY's List endorsement would have made a huge difference to Sargent's campaign--lending credibility, opening wallets and buying the candidate precious airtime. But not ensuring victory.

Ellen Malcolm knew Sargent didn't have a chance.
Few people--including men--are suited to high office. That has been a bitter lesson for feminists, who for years have worked to pack elected offices with women--any women. Now that philosophy is changing as women realize the value of picking one's horses.

No one asked Claire Sargent to run for the Senate. "Noooo. Nobody approached me. Are you kiiiiiddin'?" she says with a throaty laugh, her drawl the remnant of a Southern upbringing. She just wanted to give McCain a run for it, and she didn't much care for Truman Spangrud.

 

Sargent is no dummy. She is well-read, judging by the piles of New York Times clippings on the dining-room table of her ritzy, downtown apartment. But the hint of cultural elitism--combined with a breezy dismissal of details--is the kiss of death when it comes to the Arizona electorate.

She has no regrets. Sargent leans back in a wicker chair in her apartment and thinks back to the 1992 Democratic National Convention in New York City. The 11 Democratic women senatorial candidates had their picture taken with Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, who, at the time, was the only Democratic woman serving in the Senate.

"After the thing was over," Sargent recalls, "Mikulski said, 'Everybody get outta here! . . . I want to talk to these women.' She said, 'Listen. I have been waiting for you.'"
Sargent stops, her eyes filling. "I'm gonna cry," she says, almost too softly to be heard.

Continuing, she says, "Mikulski told the women, 'I've been waiting for you for six years.' She said, 'You don't know what it's like being the only one.' She said, 'When you get there, we can change the Senate and change America.'"

The tears spill over. Sargent doesn't have any intention of running for office again, and she's not looking for an appointment. But she'd like to do something to represent women. She refuses to quit EMILY's List. "You don't just pick up your marbles and walk away," she says. "I feel that I still have something to say, that it [the Senate campaign] gave me a voice. . . . I don't know anybody else that speaks for the women. Do you?" She chuckles her throaty chuckle, adding, "I mean, maybe they don't want me to." Maybe they don't. Susan Gerard, who eschews the label "woman politician," says of Sargent: "I almost felt like she was an embarrassment to women.


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