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“Women in Politics” was the topic of a lively discussion hosted by the Heartland Institute last Wednesday. The panel, moderated by Lake Forest resident and attorney Elizabeth Yore, was made up of seven distinguished women in politics: Illinois Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti; Illinois state Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno; Illinois State Rep. Patti Bellock; Wisconsin State Rep. Samantha Kerkman; Illinois State House Candidate Dawn Abernathy; Kathleen Murphy of the Illinois Opportunity Project; and Linda J. Hansen, Deputy Chief of Staff of Herman Cain’s 2012 presidential campaign.
Elizabeth Yore Sets the Stage
Yore spoke about the 2016 presidential race as undoubtedly “the most colorful and contentious political campaign in the history of the Republic,” further remarking “This has been a campaign dominated by Wikileaks, leaked videos, leaked audios, Bleachbit, and bleached blonds.”
Social media has dominated the race to trigger the prevailing ‘modern digital political warfare,’ she told the audience.
Although life on the national campaign trail often mimics a reality show, Yore related how state and local campaigns must focus on issues that directly impact voters, especially “in their pocketbook and their families.” In speaking about the women who would be featured on the Heartland stage that night, Yore said they were epitomized the words of Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve both in the U.S. House and Senate:
Public service must be more than doing a job efficiently and honestly. It must be a complete dedication to the people and to the nation.
Yore also recalled her favorite advice from Andrew Breitbart – which is on a poster as you walk into Heartland’s event space named for him – as being applicable to the group of smart, dedicated women leaders who would speak that night:
Walk toward the fire. Don’t worry about what they call you. All those things are said against you because they want to stop you in your tracks. But if you keep going, you’re sending a message to people who are footing for you, who are agreeing with you. The message is that they can do it, too.
The night’s event was split up into two panel discussions.
Panel 1 – Life on the Campaign Trail
Christine Radogno is Illinois’ State Republican Senate Minority Leader. She was the first female caucus leader in the General Assembly history. Having served in the Illinois Senate since 1997, Christine began her third term as Senate Republican Leader in 2013. Christine represents the 41st District in DuPage, Will, and Cook Counties.
As so often happens, Radogno’s involvement in politics began with a local issue – preventing a fire station from opening up on her street – which then led to another level of government involvement. In 1996, Radogno believed she was a better candidate than the incumbent, Democrat Robert Raica. And even though an incumbent wins 98% of the time, Radogno decided to run for the Illinois Senate. Running on a shoestring budget, she won by 100 votes.
Together Radogno and another candidate, who eked out a victory with a 200 vote margin, succeeded in keeping the Illinois Senate in Republican hands. Radogno confessed that she had no idea the odds of winning were so unfavorable to her. Nevertheless, it is important to take the leap even if you think you’re not going to make it – for it will inspire other people to run, help a candidate realize there is another side on issues, and in the end embrace the experience of running as a satisfying and rewarding experience.
Dawn Abernathy is challenging incumbent Carol Sente for Illinois State House, District 59. Abernathy grew up in Libertyville and attended Carmel High School in Mundelein. Her interest in politics began at a very young age with parents who were very conservative and taught her that she must be a concerned voter. After raising five children, Abernathy said she knew it was time to become politically involved, something she had always wanted to do. Abernathy ran, and won, a seat on her local board of trustees. She was inspired to run for the state House by observing the mess in Springfield, and being told constantly that taxes must be raised to pay for the mess current politicians created.
Abernathy’s campaign has gotten nasty. Seventeen negative mailings have been sent out against her. Abernathy said she almost lost herself in trying to defend herself. So she decided that to win, she must knock on doors to convert those who are against her. Closing thoughts by Abernathy: 1) Her campaign has been hard and grueling, but she has enjoyed every minute of it. 2) There was no social media when she was in college, but life today has become an open book through Facebook, etc. 3) Make sure you guard your privacy.
Kathleen Murphy is director of communications for the Illinois Opportunity Project, which seeks to promote the social good and common welfare by educating the public about the principles of liberty and free enterprise. Murphy stressed that women don’t benefit when government grows. When government grows, it encourages women to become helpless wards of the state.
Murphy said the number one barrier to women entering politics is fear of government intrusion in their lives, or the targeting of their families by political operatives. Women will say to her often, Murphy said: “You can do it, but I can’t.” For women who fear entering politics, Murphy had this to say: “The only people who have no fear are the sociopaths. Just take the next step.” Overcoming this fear is the right thing to do, she added. Women must be supported if they take the first step. There is a place for you. We need women at the local and state levels, as well as in the federal government – where change is so badly needed.
Linda J. Hansen is the founder and president of Capacity Strategies, LLC, and is a strategic political and business consultant, a certified personal and executive coach, author and speaker. Hansen is most known for her role as Deputy Chief of Staff for Herman Cain’s 2012 presidential campaign in Wisconsin.
With decades of political experience at local, state, and national levels, Hansen played a key role in developing the strategies that led to the historic 2010 partisan shift in Wisconsin. Hansen noted how it takes fearlessness and courage to run for public office.
Hansen said her “birth” into politics began when she held her first child, of which she now has six. She wanted her child to grow up free, to be everything God wanted him to be. It is Linda’s love for her six children and her six grandchildren that fuels what she does now.
Hansen first became a county political volunteer, and then took on more responsibilities out of her home as her children grew older. In the fall of 2008, Mark Block asked Linda to meet with him to discuss his plan for taking back the state of Wisconsin from the leftist politicians who ruled it. Block was head of Americans for Prosperity at the time with a membership of 12,000. Block’s suggestion was met by opposition by those in the Republican Party who said it couldn’t be done. Hansen realized that to take back Wisconsin, they had to contact and enlist ordinary people into the movement – and she helped grow AFP- Wisconsin to a force of 100,000 people. Those who said it couldn’t be done were only standing in the way of those who were trying to get something done.
Hansen founded Prosperity 101, LLC in 2009 to provide educational resources designed for use in small businesses or large corporations across the United States. Linda published a book with the same name, Prosperity 101, in which she connects boardroom to breakroom and the importance of educating employees in a non-partisan way. Linda’s book was a big part in helping to save the state of Illinois in its recall battle.
Hansen expressed how honored she felt to be part of Herman Cain’s presidential campaign in 2012. She helped put together a plan – which sounded crazy at the time – to elevate the unknown Herman Cain to the top candidate in the polls. Describing the Herman Cain campaign as a movement without a lot of money, Cain did reach number one in the polls for six weeks without a single paid advertisement.
Hansen mused how it was possible to accomplish such much starting out, as she did, as a mom without a college degree who was home-schooling her children.
Panel 2 – How Women Directly Impact the Actual Process of Government
As Yore, the moderator, so accurately noted: “As government expands, liberty contracts. Our Founders’ vision of limited government enabled American creativity and entrepreneurship to flourish.”
Samantha Kerkman, a Wisconsin State Representative, has served in the Wisconsin State Assembly since 2001. Born into a political family, Samantha was taken by her father to political events at a very early age, and spoke to the Heartland audience about how Wisconsin politics really works.
Kerkman was only 26 when she first ran for office in 2000. Having decided to run and feeling great excitement at her decision to do so, Kerkman said her own grandfather told her: “You can’t run. You’re a woman.” This response only emboldened her to prove that she could run and win.
As to Wisconsin’s economic progress in the last 36 months, Kerkman said Wisconsin has gained 6,000 jobs, which were realized because of the reforms passed in 2011 are now kicking in. Uline just announced it will add another 500 jobs in Wisconsin by the spring of 2017.
Kerkman said she doesn’t look at herself as any different from her male counterparts. Men can deal with facts and figures, and so can women. But women have an advantage because they are better at telling humanizing stories when appealing to fellow legislators and their constituents. As a mother of two children, Samantha continues to do what she has done in her 16 years as a legislator. Although, she said, her family has to realize that it comes with costs … and not a small amount of intimidation. Kerkman recounted how her home has been vandalized, and one protestor sat in front of her house for several months.
Patti Bellock is serving her ninth term in the Illinois Senate and was appointed Deputy Minority Leader in October 2013. Her assignments include serving as chief budget negotiator for the House Republicans, minority spokeswoman on the Human Services Appropriations Committee, and a member of the Labor and Commerce Committee. She has been described as the “guardian of small business in the western suburbs.”
Bellock noted how she didn’t come from a political family, but from a sports family. Her father was a pitcher for the White Sox. As a stay-at-home mom for 22 years, Bellock spoke of always being involved with the issues, knowing the right thing to do, but not having the courage to move forward to take action – which requires courage, persistence, and passion.
Being a legislator, Bellock said, is a 24/7 job. People will question legislators wherever they go, and cell phones now insure that a legislator’s life is often subject to the beck and call of others. Bellock only won by 210 votes in her first campaign, and attributed her victory to getting up early every morning to be at train stations to meet commuters.
Bellock said she views educating one’s self as paramount for a legislator. Knowing the issue is so necessary in order to debate it – on the legislature floor and at home. One thing is for sure, Bellock said: “You cannot tax your way to a better government.” Democrats, she said, want the approval of $4 billion spending plan, but those who know and care about the dire financial status of Illinois consider such a request irresponsible. As Bellock said, “We can’t afford it.”
Gaining respect from the other side is the only way anything can be passed, Bellock said. It takes staying focused and persistent, knowing that there are 118 Illinois state representatives all with their own opinions. Medicare reform, she said, is one issue on which both sides could come to an agreement.
Evelyn Sanguinetti is the 47th lieutenant governor of Illinois. She was formerly an adjunct professor of law and a Wheaton City councilwoman, earning her law degree from John Marshall Law School in Chicago. Gov. Rauner appointed Sanguinetti chairman of the Local Government and Unfunded Task Force, with its goal to reduce costs to taxpayers.
Sanguinetti, the last speaker of the night before Q&A, had the most unusual and amazing story of all to tell – one that was inspiring and incredible in its scope, admitting that she never could have dreamed of holding the position she now does.
Sanguinetti described her background growing up in Florida. Her mother was a refugee from Cuba, and her father was from Ecuador. In coming to America, her parents dreamed of giving freedom opportunities to their family.
Food stamps were a way of life for her. All the children in Sanguinetti neighborhood had free lunch cards to use, but she was ashamed to use hers. It took urging from her mother for her to do so. Not knowing at the time that music would be the saving grace for her daughter, Sanguinetti’s mother was told that it was good for a child to play a musical instrument, so Elizabeth was given piano lessons.
Sanguinetti spoke of her disinterest in school, having even failed the first grade! When she was around 11 or so, Sanguinetti heard about an opportunity being offered by a magnet school in Miami and decided to audition. When in the practice room on the day of her audition, Sanguinetti could hear all around her others playing compositions by Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. She, meanwhile, was going to play a popular song of the day. To her surprise the magnet school saw promise in her, and Sanguinetti received the magnet school scholarship. It changed her life, as she went to college on a scholarship – when she once never even dreamt that college would be in her future.
Sanguinetti came to Chicago to obtain her law degree. It was her interest in the Latino movement and women in politics that led her to meeting Bruce Rauner. As head of Rauner’s Local Government and Unfunded Task Force, with offices in both Springfield and Chicago, Evelyn spoke about streamlining the services offered by the Task Force, as well as the task force itself which she cut in half. Sanguinetti emphasized the importance of passing term limits, remarking how she was only three months old when House Speaker Michael Madigan was first sworn into office. Additionally, the fight must continue with the unfairness of redistricting, she said.
It is hoped that the women featured in the two panels will inspire, inform, and even spark the next generation of women to “Walk Toward the Fire” and “Stand by the Fire” by taking the plunge and running for office.