Vernon dismisses barriers


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Monica Vernon made a decision to become involved with government at a fairly young age, running for student council in high school and participating in numerous student activities during her time at the University of Iowa.

Following her undergraduate degree in journalism and an M.B.A. at the UI, Vernon owned and ran her own business.

Most recently, on Jan. 15, the 57-year-old announced her intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the 1st Congressional District seat, a campaign she knows well after having ran unsuccessfully for the position last year.

Officials say Vernon’s decision to pursue another run may mark a trend in the number of women running for office.

Maggie Tinsman, a former Iowa state senator and the co-head of 50-50 in 2020, said electing a woman to the U.S. Senate was a good start, and hopefully, a sign of more women to announce their interest.

Tinsman said four out of the seven candidates who ran for U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst’s state Senate seat were women, and that in itself is a sign that more women are being encouraged to run.

According to a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, researchers found that of the 77 percent of women who have discussed a run for higher office with family and friends, only one in five female state legislators have seriously considered running for higher office.

It is not the lack of interest, the report says; rather, additional factors that include the reason to run for first office, considerations for higher office, mentorship and networking, financial barriers, and gender bias and access to political resources. In an interview with The Daily Iowan on Monday, Vernon described the ways in which these so-called barriers haven’t held her back.

Reason to run for first office

According to the report, men will run for office to “be someone,” whereas women will run to “do something.” Women have different political motivations to initially run compared with men, and as they move from their initial run for office, their motivations will change.

Vernon said by the time she ran for a seat on the Cedar Rapids City Council, she had an M.B.A., was running a company, built a homeless shelter, was involved in several different organizations, and therefore felt very prepared to take the next step.

She ran for her first term in 2007, and she is serving her second four-year term as a councilor and mayor pro tem.

“When you get a woman candidate, you can bet that she is very, very well-prepared,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that … I was waiting for the right time. It was sort of a natural progression.”

Considerations for higher office

Many women might be deterred by the increasingly hostile political climate, but Vernon said if anything, it encourages her, and she hopes it encourages more women to run for office.

Roughly 56 percent of women run for higher office because they have the desire to change the way government works, whereas 33 percent want to see women in higher office, according to the report.

I think the current climate might turn some women off,” Vernon said. “That would be unfortunate, because the current climate needs more women.”

Tinsman said based on much of the research her organization has done, women are some of the best problem-solvers.

“I’d like to rename politics to women’s business,” she said. “I’ve worked with men a lot; there’s nothing wrong with them, but a lot of men like politics for the prestige and the game playing … Women are anxious to get the problem solved.”

Women are also not as likely to consider work/family conflict as significant of a barrier; rather, it can sometimes inspire women to run.

Mentorship and networking

Vernon said mentorship has played a large role in why she has made the key decisions she has thus far.

“I’ve been really lucky to have so many people who have been encouraging to me, friends to me,” she said. “There’s a really good support system, especially in this area, for anyone who wants to make our communities, our regions, our country better.”

Money barrier

Many of the participants in the study said they consider money the greatest barrier to run for higher office. Sixty-two percent of women said money/fundraising/campaign infrastructure was the biggest barrier to running for higher office.

Vernon said fundraising is the biggest obstacle, no matter who is doing it.

“It’s not necessarily the money but asking people for contributions,” she said. “That really puts people out of their comfort zone.”

Dianne Bystrom, the director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, said announcing as early as Vernon has may be a good sign in regards to campaign financing.

Gender bias

While research shows that many of the participants perceive government to be more gender-biased than the private sector, Vernon says she does not see that to be the case.

Vernon has had a number of early endorsements that include state Sen. and President of the Senate Pam Jochum, state Sen. Rob Hogg, Sen. Joe Bolkcom, Rep. Mary Mascher, and Rep. Art Staed.

From what Vernon briefly counted, she had an equal number of both men and women endorsing her so far.

“That’s not to say [bias] doesn’t exist,” she said. “I’ve just felt really supported by people of both genders, and so hopefully, we’ve gotten to a point where there is less of that.”

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