The executive director of the “50-50 in 2020,” Mary Ellen Miller says it’s part of their effort to get more women elected. “The whole concept was started in 2010 by two former state senators — Jean Jones and Maggie Tinsman — who recognized that women had a lot of questions about being a candidate that weren’t always addressed during regular campaign schools. And oftentimes, questions they weren’t comfortable asking,” Miller says.
She says the goal of the organization is to achieve “political equity” in Iowa politics. “They also felt that if we offered a training program in a bipartisan, issue-neutral environment — something no one else in the country had ever tried to do and still hasn’t tried to do — they would help the women get to know each other, so after they got elected they would already have a relationship built,” according to Miller.
Miller says candidates will get instruction on some of the basics like current voting and campaign laws, creating a campaign timeline, and fundraising. They’ve also added another topic.
“We didn’t really until this year focus much attention on candidate safety. Especially while candidates are out door knocking,” Miller says. “And we’ve kind of fleshed that out more this year as well so that women are more conscious of their environment. And we encourages them of course, do not go out alone.”
Miller says there’s another area they cover, even though women don’t like to. “How do I manage the house, how do I manage the children. How do I manage if I have a business or a career or a job? How do I put that all that together?,” Miller says. “And a lot of times men are not asked those questions, they don’t see them as barriers. But for women, the culture still sees them as being the maintainer of the hearth and home.”
Part of the training includes a national speech coach Christine Jahnke to work with them on appearing in public. “She’s coached national figures, Hillary Clinton and Michele Obama have been her clients, and we’ve been using her from day one,” according to Miller. “And part of her presentation and part of our handouts are your appearance, dress, makeup, jewelry, and specifically, appearance on camera.”
Miller says they call it “hair, hemline and heels.” “Those are the things that reporters comment on. Those are the things that constituents comment on, hair, hemline and heels. So, there’s a strong emphasis on that,” Miller says.
Miller first ran for the State Legislature herself in 1992 and says she had men in rural Iowa tell her the statehouse was too dirty a place for women. She says that changed dramatically when she ran again in 1992, and says now that we’ve had more women be elected, more women are thinking about running. Millers says there are around 37 women candidates expected to run for state office this year and they have 16 signed up for the school. She says that’s the most they’ve ever had.
The event begins this afternoon and runs through Saturday. Go to www.50-50in2020.org to find out more.