We caught up briefly with Sandra Fluke, the attorney and activist who announced that she will seek a state senate seat in California, passing up a chance to run for Congress to replace retiring Rep. Henry A. Waxman and surprising many of her progressive fans.
Here’s a lightly edited transcript of what she had to say about that decision and what it says about women and politics:
Why the state senate seat instead of Congress?—I thought very seriously about this decision and it wasn’t an easy one. What it came down to was that it’s where I can go and make progressive change happen, so that’s what it came down to for me. The numbers in state are different, roughly 40 [state senators] in California versus 435 [members in the U.S. House of Representatives]. Ultimately, it’s not just about the gridlock in D.C., I am willing to stand up and fight and as much I would want to and take the fight to some of the things we are seeing in D.C., I just think I can do more by being in Sacramento. I hope that a lot of people will start to look at what is happening in state legislatures. It doesn’t get a lot of attention, but we know a lot is getting rolled back — gay marriage and gay rights and abortion rights. All of that is happening on the state legislature level. You look at minimum wage, D.C. is talking about that, but we were able to get it done. There are a lot of really important things happening in state legislatures where can I get work done.
Did you fail to “lean in” by not going for a Congressional seat that hasn’t been open for four decades? I think that we do really have a need for more women in elected office at every level and I recognize the the importance of having a pipeline. I have deep concerns for people who say to women, ‘Wait your turn, you haven’t earned it,’ and I don’t approve of people being told that. Have I heard those kinds of ideas? Yes. Did I give that any credence? None whatsoever. I didn’t not go for the brass ring. I went for the work that needs to be done and that’s what leadership should look like.
Any fear about being branded as a kind of one hit wonder– forever known as the woman Rush Limbaugh called a “slut” because of your support for mandating insurance companies provide coverage for contraceptives? Unfortunately, everybody gets defined by other people, and the trick is to define yourself. I am proud of the advocacy that I did to make sure that women have access and I’m proud of the example I set and I look forward to building on that.
What other issues do you think are important and that you plan to address?–We are right along the coast, protecting the environment is really important to our core values, and we have very valuable coast to protect. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act, that’s something that states are looking at, and we have to make sure that it is being implemented in the way that it should be. And jobs. We have a high unemployment rate that we have to grapple with and we have to help lower that, because we owe it to our constituents and I will build on the work I’ve done on human trafficking and advocating for gay rights and social justice issues.
If you win this race, you’ll have a smaller platform than you do now in some ways. And certainly smaller than if you ran for Congress. And if you lose, you won’t have much of a platform at all? Talk about those scenarios. There is no point in having a platform unless you are doing it to advance progressive work. I’m not going to back off that work. If my platform helps me get the work done, great. When I get to Sacramento I hope that I get to use my platform to talk about how we can be a model. But doing the work for my constituents isn’t about keeping my platform.