Why aren’t women running for Illinois governor? | On Politics | Chicago Reader

Why aren’t women running for Illinois governor? 

The governor’s race remains a sausage party. And as a result everyone who looks to the Democrats for leadership suffers.

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Susan Sadlowski Garza; Kelly Cassidy; Stacy Davis Gates

Susan Sadlowski Garza; Kelly Cassidy; Stacy Davis Gates

Michelle Kanaar; Rich Hein; Rich Hein

The other day I got a press release about Tenth Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza's August 15 gubernatorial forum, which all the major Democratic candidates will attend.

That's nice. Got no problem with that. My question is: Why isn't Garza one of those candidates running for governor?

No disrespect to the eight fellers in the race, but I can't think of many Democrats better qualified than Garza to lead the party's fight against Bruce Rauner.

She's a smart, passionate progressive rooted in a racially and economically integrated southeast-side neighborhood. For more than 20 years she was a public school counselor—while raising three kids. It's a background millions of Illinois voters can relate to.

Asked why she's not running, Garza generally says something along the lines of "Give me a break. I like my job."

Garza is by no means alone when it comes to women in politics who have as much, if not more, to offer than the guys in the race.

Want a bare-knuckled fighter who knows the budget and has demonstrated she's unafraid to go toe-to-toe with Rauner? State comptroller Susana Mendoza is your candidate.

Looking for a smart and compassionate downstate progressive with labor roots who works well in interracial coalitions? Meet state rep Carol Ammons, from Champaign–Urbana.

Want a brainy north-sider with a devilish sense of humor who knows the budget and is also well versed in criminal justice issues? Come on down, state rep Kelly Cassidy.

Desperately seeking a take-no-prisoners progressive tactician who understands how Springfield really works? Then get to know Stacy Davis Gates, the political and legislative director of the Chicago Teachers Union.

I can go on and on. The point is, none of them are running for governor. And as a result everyone who looks to the Democrats for leadership suffers. The issue isn't whether women can win the race for statewide office—Mendoza, attorney general Lisa Madigan, and U.S. senator (and former U.S. representative) Tammy Duckworth have demonstrated that. But they can't win if they don't run.

A few weeks ago political strategist Joanna Klonsky and a few of her progressive allies launched arethereanywomenrunningforilgovernor.com. If you go to the website, you'll see a word written in big red letters: NO. The page also includes links to campaigns encouraging women to get involved in politics.

Klonsky's come up with three basic reasons why women don't run for office.

1. They don't have as much money as their male counterparts. (The glass ceiling is no joke.) The funding gap is a huge disadvantage in a race that features two billionaires—Rauner and JB Pritzker—with millions to burn.

2. The state Democratic Party has a lousy farm system. It does a poor job of finding and cultivating strong candidates.

3. The douchebag factor. Well, Klonsky doesn't put it that way exactly. But the reality is that among the men who still dominate politics there's widespread behavior that's moronic and condescending.

"The issue is greater than Illinois," Klonsky says. As evidence, she points to a recently published study by Richard Fox and Jennifer Lawless, political scientists at Loyola Marymount University and American University, respectively.

"In college men's political ambition grows, while women's fades," the authors conclude in the study, sponsored by the media organization Politico. "While only a third of high school girls doubt they'd ever be qualified to run, half of college women have the same doubts."

In other words, over time things get worse, not better.

To that let me add a couple of observations. When I ask women who hold elected office why they're not running for governor, generally I get one of two explanations: family or qualifications.

As one state rep told me, "My kids need me at home."

Obviously, women take their familial responsibilities more seriously than men. I can't think of many elected officials who are men who've put off running because of "the kids."

Finally, there's the matter of qualifications. Many accomplished women have told me something along the lines of "I'm not ready" or "I'm just learning the job I have."

Again, it's admirable that they take seriously the need for experience. But I don't recall seeing such cautiousness in any man asked about running for office. Hell, most guys are angling for the next office practically as soon as they get sworn in to their first.

Consider the cases of Rahm and Rauner. In 2011, Rahm found himself eminently qualified to run Chicago, even though he knew next to nothing about it, having spent most of his career in Washington, D.C. It's not surprising that soon after getting elected he thought it was a good idea to close mental health clinics in high-crime areas where people were traumatized from ducking gunfire.

As for Rauner, good God, this dude felt qualified to be governor even though he'd never spent a day working in government. Two years into his administration, he still hasn't passed a budget and our schools are on the brink of bankruptcy. And now he's pouring millions into his reelection campaign, apparently as self-confident as ever.

It reminds me of the slogan on the T-shirt Mitch Trubisky, the Bears' rookie quarterback, has been wearing: "Greatness is there for the taking."

The Rahms and the Rauners have been taking everything that's not nailed down, even though they're not great. Women might consider emulating them if they want to rise to the top. But given the mess those two guys have made of our city and state, I'm not sure that's such a good idea.   v

Correction: This article has been amended to reflect that Tammy Duckworth had been a U.S. representative before becoming a U.S. senator.

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