It’s not Larryland or Harryland. It’s Maryland.
Maryland let her down.
Democrats didn’t even consider a woman for governor — although nearly every candidate picked one for a running mate, citing impressive resumes. They didn’t return Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D) to her House seat. No Maryland woman will get a shot at trying to fill Mikulski’s wish for the Senate.
And with the nation’s political gazed fixed on what GOP gubernatorial candidate Kelly Schulz’s loss means for outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan’s political future, we’re left to lament the historic first that wasn’t.
Maryland is one of 19 states, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, that haven’t had the ovaries to put a woman in the governor’s chair, and voters blew it in spectacular fashion, not only rejecting Schulz, but elevating a Jan. 6, 2021 skeptic and acolyte of former president Donald Trump who wants to curtail abortion rights.
Oh wait. I’m forgetting the huge leap that Democrats made putting Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City) up for state comptroller, right?
No offense to Lierman, a civil rights and disability lawyer with a solid record, but state comptroller is the Aerosoles of the political world. Not exactly sexy, influential or high-profile.
In other words, Maryland voters are preferring their women in supporting roles. Exhibit A: the lieutenant governors. All but one was female.
“It seems to signal that while women can have a seat at the table they just can’t be at the head of it,” Krishanti Vignarajah, who ran in Maryland’s last gubernatorial Democratic primary four years ago, told my colleagues Ovetta Wiggins and Erin Cox, before the primary.
This is not exactly what Shirley Chisholm meant when she said “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
It matters when women are part of government. In some cases, they’ve produced twice as much legislation as their male counterparts. “Additionally, in interviews, both Democratic and Republican men and women expressed the belief that women and minorities bring a different perspective to the policy process,” said Georgetown University professor Michele L. Swers, in one of her many publications that examine the role of women in politics and government.
Is it too easy to say Maryland voters are treating their candidates the same way they treat their beloved blue crabs? A premium for males and their big chunks of meat, but the females — cheap by the dozen and preferred in the soup?
Female leaders across the political spectrum have opined on the efficacy of women in power. Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher said “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.”
The polar opposite of Thatcher, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed a different type of leadership that women bring to politics. “One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak,” she said. “I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”
Even if you don’t want to believe that women make different kinds of leaders, there’s no question that representation matters.
The Obama effect is how one researcher explained a measurable difference in the way an observed group of Black, male high school kids saw themselves once a person who looks like them became the nation’s leader.
Obama’s “accomplishments made it possible for them to believe that they can also achieve success in life,” Aundra Simmons Vaughn wrote in her 2015 research paper, after interviewing students in Georgia.
That’s what voters told me back in 2016, when Edwards was trying to be the only Black woman in the Senate.
“When she sits there, we all sit there,” Betsy Simon, then 76, told me back then, right after she met Edwards at the Neighborhoods United annual banquet in West Baltimore on Sunday.
“She has lived her life; it’s like our lives,” Simon said. “And she knows what we need.”
Knowing is part of it. So is showing, showing all of America in our leadership, our legislatures, in the faces we present to the world as a diverse and dynamic nation.
What is Maryland showing, in its selection of Dan Cox, a one-term state lawmaker, over Schulz, who is a mother, small-business owner and served seven years in Larry Hogan’s administration as the state’s secretary of labor and commerce?
Sally Ride, the first American woman in space described it best, the example she wanted young girls to watch: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”