Door County Elect Women Works to Get More Women in Office

When Nancy Skadden ran for Wisconsin State Senate in 1982, she wasn’t running alone. She had a politically experienced friend running her campaign, a state education association and the district’s assembly representative behind her.

“I had good people supporting me and encouraging me,” Skadden said. “Our assembly representative who I liked and respected, a friend of mine who I liked and respected and the organization I was active in all were encouraging and helpful. That’s why I ran. Otherwise I might not have been bold enough.”

But not every female candidate has that support. Skadden has teamed up with other local women to start Door County Elect Women, a group trying to get more women elected to local, nonpartisan positions.

It’s a worthy cause. Eighty-two candidates ran for local office in April this year and only 19 of them – or 23 percent – were women. That’s about one woman for every three men.

“Many, many of the towns, and the City of Sturgeon Bay, have no women [represented] on the city council, no women on the town boards,” Skadden said. “The county board has 21 people, only three of which are women… It’s not fair that there are not more women on those boards, but it’s also not fair to the community that women aren’t holding up their end of things.”

Women traditionally don’t run for office, which makes campaigning a scary proposition, and many of them are busy working and taking care of a family, said Victoria Cerinich, a Door County Elect Women organizer.

Group leaders see the problem two ways:  women are missing out on the opportunity to serve, and the county is missing out on their input.

To fix the problems, they want to put together a network of women who understand political campaigns and will volunteer time to help female candidates succeed, whether they help keep track of due dates, listen to speeches or proofread campaign fliers. With more support and help, women will have a better shot.

“If [a candidate] has two hours but she needs four, hopefully we’ll find the people to add those two extra hours,” Cerinich said.

The group is hosting a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 6:30 pm in the Jane Greene Room at the Sturgeon Bay Library. There, local women will talk about their experience running for and being elected to office, discuss the goals of the group and go over the materials they put together to help new candidates run for office.

Skadden and Cerinich said Door County Elect Women is targeting women because they feel they are the demographic with the most potential candidates.

“The bigger the pot we can draw from in [terms of] people that lead us, the better the outcomes will be,” Skadden said. “Let’s just increase the pot by including all women and all men.”

Most of the April 2013 races for local, nonpartisan office went uncontested – something that frustrates Cerinich when she hears people complain about their representatives.

“I read the letters to the editor and I look at the news media and I see people not content with decisions being made,” she said. “So why do we have uncontested elections? If there’s a barrier to running for office we’d like it to be removed.”

Amanda Jeanquart, just 20 years old at the time, ran in one of those contested races for Union town supervisor last year against incumbent Ron Renard. She lost by 82 votes, 22 percent, but that didn’t discourage her from staying involved.

“I think it was a great learning experience,” she said. “I met a lot of people in the town I didn’t know before and I got to learn a lot of new viewpoints on what was going on in the town. Since then I’ve set up the website, so even though I didn’t win the election I still got one of my goals accomplished.”

Jeanquart will attend the Door County Elect Women meeting and intends to help future candidates.

“I think another barrier might just be the mindset that it’s difficult to run and you need a lot of time to do it, when there are a lot of people willing to campaign,” she said. “If you have the passion for it you should definitely try it. I didn’t succeed in winning the election, but I definitely gained a new perspective on things and it was a really great experience.”