Last week, I attended the Watermark Conference with Hillary Clinton in Silicon Valley. I, like most of the 5,000 women in attendance, was filled with pent-up excitement about the prospect of Hillary running for president again in 2016. The feeling in the air was feverish and Hillary was greeted with wild enthusiasm.
Hillary gave a great speech and cited powerful statistics about gender inequality in Silicon Valley. She was her usual brilliant self, and there is no question in my mind that she is more than qualified to be president. The notes that Hillary hit were received very positively, and it was obvious from the palpable energy in the room that we were all more excited than ever about a Clinton candidacy. She was -- in a word -- inspiring.
But there was one theme on which Hillary failed to inspire -- the need for women candidates in the 2016 election.
During her speech, Hillary told the audience that they didn't have do something big like running for office. "If you do," she said, "more power to you." Instead of sidelining the idea of running for office as a matter of bonus points, she could have used her position to inspire her audience to action. What if she had asked those 5,000 women in the audience to consider running for office? What if she had encouraged them to put their name on the ticket with hers?
Hillary -- you may be running to become the first woman president of the United States. And you could make the 2016 election not just about YOUR race, but about the races of women all over this great country. What if every time you give a speech from now until next November, you issued a call to action to all of the women in the audience? What if every time someone asks you about YOUR plans to run for office, you turn the question around and ask: "Why does everyone keep asking ME to run for office? Why don't you go out into your community and find other women to ask?" Because we know from the research that women need to be invited to run. Maybe you could remind your audience that there are 520,000 elected offices in this country and 65 percent of them are held by white men. What if you told people that if there is one thing you have learned and know to be true, it is that while the top of the ticket matters, winning state and local elections is imperative to the success of the Democratic agenda?
At one point, Wall Street Journal columnist Kara Swisher asked Hillary, "If you could wave a wand and make one thing happen, what would it be?" Hillary said that she would get back to having politicians work together. She said you can't have a conversation and run a great country like this if you can't work together. I wonder if Hillary read New York Times journalist Sheryl Stolberg's recent article about the data crunching on congressional efficiency. Quorum, a startup run by Harvard students, found that congresswomen sponsored more legislation, co-sponsored more bills, and gained more co-sponsorships than their male counterparts. Women were not only more likely to work with each other to cosponsor legislation, but also across the aisle to pass bipartisan legislation. What if Hillary had said, "If I could wave my wand, I would make 50 percent of all of our office holders women? Because the research shows that this is the way to end gridlock." Maybe she could have taken the opportunity to educate the audience about why electing women is a strategy for mitigating partisan standoffs, for moving beyond conversation to action.
If I could sit down with Hillary, I would ask her to imagine 2016 as the election that catapulted women to positions of power all over this country. Imagine having women candidates up and down the ticket to seriously galvanize women voters. Hillary, you have the power to not just run and win the presidency, but to be the inspiration that turns the tide in this country in terms of Democratic women serving in public office. If you play your cards right, 2016 and 2020 (the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage) could usher in historic numbers of women running for office. Perhaps then we would begin to see progressive policies enacted and implemented at every level.
Andrea Dew Steele is President and Founder of Emerge America, the premier training program for Democratic women. Emerge America is changing the face of American politics by identifying, training and encouraging women to run for office, get elected and to seek higher office. Our intensive, cohort-based seven-month training program is unique. As the number of elected Democratic women remains flat or even declines, the need for our work is growing across the country. We currently work in 14 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Emerge America's role is to serve the states where we work, open new state programs and build capacity to train more women in each of our current states. We are working to open new states to offer our programming to more women in more locations.