Focusing on women in politics

BY IAN MURPHY | APRIL 21, 2014 5:00 AM

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White-haired men are not the only ones on Capitol Hill anymore.

But their female counterparts are not coming from Iowa.

The University of Iowa Public Policy Center held a symposium, Women In Politics, on April 18 to examine why women do and don’t run for office, as well as what obstacles they face when they are elected. 

The symposium was headlined by keynote speaker Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who spoke about some of the challenges she faced as a woman in Congress, as well as how to get more young women interested in politics.

According to the National Women’s Political Caucus Foundation, Iowa is one of four states that have never elected a woman to either U.S. Senate or House of Representatives. Currently, there are 99 female members of Congress, totaling 18.5 percent. Twenty percent of the Senate is composed of women.

Iowans have the chance to elect their first women to Congress in the midterm elections this year. Six women are running for Iowa’s open seats.

“We need more women to run for office, and we need more young women to get interested in politics and government,” Klobuchar said.

Kären Mason, the curator of the Iowa Women’s Archives in the UI Libraries, said she is excited about the prospects.

“I look forward to the day when the Iowa Women’s Archives gets a truck load of files from our first congresswoman or senator,” she said.

Klobuchar said participating in student government and in election campaigns are ways for interested women to get involved in politics.

“The route a lot of times in schools is the student council,” she said. “And no state knows better than Iowa that you can get involved in presidential campaigns when you’re a student here.”

Junior Joe Rajchel said highlighting opportunities like these can help students get into these initiatives.

“I think if students know, they can get involved,” he said.

Madeline Jarvis, a graduate student in library sciences, said helping people get involved in the community can help them get involved in politics.

“A lot goes in to community outreach, not just with Iowa City but with the state,” She said. “It can be intimidating to think how you can fit into your community.”

Klobuchar said highlighting woman leaders will help get young women involve. She said she faced opposition before being elected. 

“When I first ran for county attorney, no one gave me a chance,” she said.

She said these leaders often face higher standards than men.

“What I’ve seen is that a lot of women have to prove themselves more to get into office by showing they accomplish things,” she said.  “Women tend to have to show to the citizens of their states or their districts that they are accountable, that they have measurable results, that they’ve gotten the bills passed that they said they would get passed.”

Klobuchar said that meeting and beating expectations is one key to advancing.

“If you can keep your own expectations high, it really makes a difference, and you can actually feed off those low expectations,” she said.

She said her first job in Washington was cataloguing furniture for then Vice President Walter Mondale, and she remembers those humble beginnings.

“I literally stand before you as the granddaughter of an iron-ore worker and the daughter of a newspaper man and a teacher, and the first woman elected to the Senate from Minnesota,” Klobuchar said.

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