More Moms, please. Why we need more mothers running for office

OPINION: Tonya J. Williams of EMILY's List believes one of the legacies of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is that working mothers can be good public servants

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Last month, we were all saddened to hear of the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an icon in the women’s rights movement and a great American hero. 

Her work in dismantling a system of inequality for women is much of the reason why EMILY’s List, the nation’s largest resource for women in politics, is able to do the work of helping to elect pro-choice Democratic women up and down the ballot, all over the country. And her life is proof that women have the ability to achieve greatness even when systems are stacked against them. 

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivers remarks at the Georgetown Law Center on September 12, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)

Justice Ginsburg wrote of her experience not being able to find a job as a lawyer after graduating at the top of her law school class, “In the fifties, the traditional law firms were just beginning to turn around on hiring Jews. But to be a woman, a Jew and a mother to boot — that combination was a bit too much.” 

She proved that everything about her was just what the world needed. 

As a mother, I am personally inspired by the example that Justice Ginsburg set and the record number of women, especially the mothers, who have chosen to run for office. Many of them are running while mothering in the midst of a global pandemic. And once they’re in office, they will make better laws as a result. 

There is something to be said about lived experiences. Especially when those experiences make it into the halls of power. Take Candace Valenzuela, the Democratic candidate for Texas’ 24th Congressional District, who is running for office while at home with her toddler and five-year-old son. Her older child is taking part in virtual learning. 

Candace Valenzuela
Democratic candidate for Texas’ 24th Congressional District Candace Valenzuela (Credit: Valenzuela)

Valenzuela could have sent him to school, but she didn’t want to jeopardize the health of her mother-in-law who is 71 years old.  During this era of COVID-19, Valenzuela not only understands what many parents are experiencing, she is in a position to bring all of that to Washington. 

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Having someone who knows the joys and challenges of having a multi-generational family and having to consider all their needs in the middle of a health crisis would be a gift to every single constituent. Figuring out these challenges isn’t an intellectual puzzle for mothers tackling them every day—and we need more of them helping figure them out for our government.

And of course, you can’t talk about mothers of young children without mentioning child care. 

As a presidential nominee, Sen. Elizabeth Warren actually introduced her plan for universal child care recalling the story of her Aunt Bee, who moved in with her family to help care for the then professor’s young children. Warren also recognized that not everyone is as fortunate as she was at that time. 

And no matter how much we’ve progressed over the years, the responsibility of finding quality affordable child care, more often than not, rests on women.

Because of bold action taken by candidates like 2018 congressional candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley and current Texas senatorial candidate MJ Hegar, urging the FEC to reconsider out-of-date practices, campaign funds can be used to cover child-care costs, a huge financial relief for mothers who want to be public servants. And an absolute relief for voters who want to choose someone who best represents their interests.

Just think about the health care, education, and economic policies that Hegar will champion if she has the opportunity to represent Texas in the Senate; policies that will place the needs of families and children first. 

In a 2016 article by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, she wrote, “My personal experience as a working mom has made me a better public servant.”

Jackie Gordon
New York’s 2nd Congressional District Jackie Gordon (Credit: Gorfon)

We see women like Jackie Gordon, who is running to represent New York’s 2nd Congressional District, talk about how hard it was to leave her small children when she was called overseas to serve during Operation Desert Storm

With the experience of being deployed as a single mom, we know that she will fight for military families and especially women in the military who need support. 

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Let’s face it, women (and especially moms) know how to solve problems with practical solutions. And whether it is being mindful of the unique needs of military families or installing breastfeeding pumps in Phoenix’s airport like Mayor Kate Gallego did, being a mom does not mean women must hold off on pursuing their dreams.   

As a mom myself who had my daughter while pursuing my master’s degree, I know that there is no such thing as work-life balance. 

Emily's List Ginsburg
Democratic candidate for Texas’ 24th Congressional District Candace Valenzuela, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Jackie Gordon who is New York’s 2nd Congressional District (Credit: Valenzuela, Wikimedia Commons and Gordon)

And since COVID has emerged, work and everyday life have collided in a way that none of us ever expected. 

Those challenges are going to be hard to solve. They require candidates who know what it means to be flexible, who understand the need for new policies and who are ready to open the country to new ideas in only the ways that moms can. 

I believe whole-heartedly that’s what Justice Ginsburg would have wanted from and for us as women. And I know it’s what my family and I deserve.

Tonya J. Williams Emily's List
Tonya J. Williams (Credit: Tonya J. Williams)

Tonya J. Williams is the director of strategic communications at EMILY’s List, the largest resource for women in politics. She and her husband, Maurey, are the proud parents of two — Tori (age 7) and Caleb (age 5). 

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