Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), the highest-ranking woman in Maryland politics and the first woman and Black person to hold the post, might disagree. So might Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery), chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), vice chair of the Health and Government Operations Committee, actually ran for Congress.
Women are not limiting themselves from higher political office.
Don’t believe it? Follow the funding and endorsements of Peña-Melnyk in her campaign for Maryland’s 4th Congressional District in 2016. She raised more than $890,000 through smaller donations, with little from unions, political action committees and businesses. Those “validators” chose Anthony G. Brown, the eventual winner, and Glenn Ivey. Brown, the former two-term lieutenant governor, lost the governor’s race in 2014. Ivey, a former Prince George’s County state’s attorney, had not held elected office since 2011.
Peña-Melnyk, a trailblazing, prolific lawmaker, had passed a host of substantive health, mental health and prescription drug reform measures and authored legislation allowing Ivey to hire more staff attorneys to prosecute crime in Prince George’s.
Two years later, former delegate Aruna Miller, a 2018 candidate for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, was out-funded by David Trone by more than $10 million (mostly self-financed). Roger Manno, then a state senator, picked up at least half of the union endorsements even though no one considered him the front-runner.
Two male candidates, one a multimillionaire, received the most money and the most endorsements from political influencers.
In labor jargon, female candidates are more victims of a lockout than a strike. Women definitely want to run, but the environment is not woman-friendly in Maryland — and I’m being polite.
Where are the coaches, boosters, endorsement deals, PAC honchos and chief executives? These are the organizations that pick candidates and provide the tools necessary for them to succeed. Why is it they so rarely choose women, even the ones who are clearly more accomplished than their male competitors? Female candidates almost never get meaningful campaign cash from these entities.
Maryland is home to some of the most progressive women in the country. They want to join their sisters on Capitol Hill. What qualified woman would forgo the chance to collaborate with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to pass historic legislation, including the Equal Rights Amendment, a $15 minimum wage and meaningful gun reform? What woman would pass up the chance to bring money back to her district? What woman would rule out the opportunity as governor to address disparities for women in housing, academia, athletics, and business and industry in Maryland?
I am astonished anyone in Maryland in the 21st century would write off female candidates when a national wave of women has been elected to Congress and a woman is vice president.
We must shift the political paradigm if we are going to effect change. Consider the television show “Shark Tank.” Twenty-seven percent of all contestants are female, but they get funded at a higher percentage than their male counterparts, 60 percent vs. 53 percent. “Shark Tank” has two women among its regular funders. Entrepreneur magazine reported that when female venture capitalists are in the room, female entrepreneurs get funded 32 percent of the time vs. only 19 percent when the funders are men only.
We have to stop believing false narratives that are unfavorable to women in politics. Not electing Maryland women to the highest levels of government is an anomaly. Women are winning in other states, both blue and red, including in neighboring Virginia.
I can name many women in Maryland politics who, with equal access to adequate funding and endorsements, have the bona fides to prevail.
We must stop accepting the status quo from politicians, analysts and kingmakers who are sidelining women in Maryland.
We must not allow women to be locked out. Instead, we must take action, stand and be counted, and engage and solicit vital campaign contributions from female funders. If we don’t, we are embracing a future for women in Maryland who will be relegated to living in a man’s world.