On the 2021 ballot, male candidates outnumbered their female counterparts 2-to-1 in the Minneapolis mayoral race and 6-to-1 in the race to lead the city of St. Paul. Two men won.
This lopsided field for the top offices in Minnesota’s two largest cities is less an exception and more a rule. A St. Thomas partnership aims to change this dynamic by growing the number of women who seek public office.
The university’s College of Arts and Sciences is the Minnesota partner for Ready to Run, a national organization and nonpartisan training program that focuses on equipping women with the campaign know-how to be ready to run for office.
Angela High-Pippert, PhD, a St. Thomas professor of political science and the Ready to Run Minnesota program director, organized an inaugural series of local trainings for women who have political aspirations for the program. The free monthly sessions through February 2022 cover topics essential to the campaign trail: media training, fundraising and more.
“This is something very specific that has a great potential, over time, to have a real impact on the state and the politics of the region. For St. Thomas and the College of Arts and Sciences to have gotten behind it is a highlight of my professional career,” High-Pippert said. “It will go a long way in shaping a broader sense of what our university does in terms of work in our community.”
While the university is housing the program, the St. Thomas community has also been generous, High-Pippert said, noting that alumni and employees have signed on to share their expertise for trainings including the upcoming media training on Nov. 5 led by St. Thomas’ Director of Public Relations and KSTP-TV alumna Vineeta Sawkar.
“We’ve seen the generosity of the community and excitement that St. Thomas was involved in this work,” High-Pippert said. “To know how many people have the same shared mission of getting more women elected to office is remarkable.”
Getting women ready
Ready to Run, High-Pippert said, takes a unique approach to campaign readiness in that it’s nonpartisan. For women candidates, support is often tied to particular issues or positions – think Emily’s List nationally or Women Winning in Minnesota.
"I think of it as really backing up from what the traditional campaign training might be and thinking about nuts and bolts of the campaign: how do I assemble a staff, how do I get a support network going, how do I fundraise, how do I canvas,” High-Pippert said. “For people who really don't know what they need to do first, this is the training for them.”
"We've seen the generosity of the community and excitement that St. Thomas was involved in this work. To know how many people have the same shared mission of getting more women elected to office is remarkable."Dr. Angela high-pippert
Nationally, Ready to Run is housed at the Center for American Women in Politics and Rutgers University, and includes 25 state partners, St. Thomas’ College of Arts and Sciences being the Minnesota partner. Trainings are created by local program directors like High-Pippert who tailor them to their state’s culture.
St. Thomas recently earned a grant from the Center for American Women in Politics and Ready to Run to supplement training costs, and as the program grows and moves from virtual to in person, High-Pippert said scholarship fundraising will be added to cover registration fees and ensure the trainings are accessible.
It always matters
More women running for political office can change politics, High-Pippert said, noting that it can shift how we think about political issues and even when issues are political.
“That's really the area that we've seen impact the most. As we have had more women elected to office, there has been an expansion of issues that are considered political, issues that therefore, require a government solution,” High Pippert said.
High-Pippert said more women in politics has helped reframe issues including sexual assault, child care and public health from private issues to political ones.
“If we think of sexual assault, for example, as a crime against an entire community and not just one person, then that changes how we're going to address that issue,” High-Pippert explained. “It's not a coincidence that there's an overlap between those issues and those that women tend to deal with. If we think of them as private issues, then there isn't a role for government. If we change the framing and think of them as public problems, then there's a public solution. That's what we call policy.”
Practical reasons aside, High-Pippert said the philosophical case for programs like Ready to Run can be equally compelling.
“If you are a democracy, then your representatives should look like the represented,” High-Pippert said. “If we continue to see it as extraordinary when women run for office, we can't expect to see a woman president if we still think it's remarkable when there's a woman who is a mayor.”
More women, more wins
Just two women have served as mayor of Minneapolis in the city’s more than 150-year history. St. Paul has never elected a woman as its leader. The lack of female candidates, even in 2021, can explain why.
Ready to Run aims to simply increase the odds for elected officials to be women, and data says it can work. When they do run, women have similar success rates as male candidates. Part of the underrepresentation with women is that women are less likely to be candidates, but this training program is designed to give them the tools they need to feel confident running for office.
“We have to shift the game. What we must have is more women running,” High-Pippert said. “Sometimes they're going to lose and sometimes they're going to win. Sometimes you would like to vote for them, sometimes you're glad they didn't get elected – just like with men.”
"If you are a democracy, then your representatives should look like the represented."Dr. Angela High-Pippert
“We need to normalize the process so it stops being about one woman at a time or six women at a time and it becomes this is just want happens. People run,” she said. “If we want to get new kinds of people into the process, there has to be more of a way in for them.”
“I'd prefer if we didn't need to have a class called Women in Politics. I'd also prefer if we didn't have a specific campaign training program for women," High-Pippert added. "We’re doing a small part toward making them extinct.”