Why don’t women run for local office?

OpEd in News-Press by Charlotte Newton provides insight

Lee Future supports the need for more women candidates and Commissioners on the Lee County Board and is committed to encouraging more women to step up to the challenge.  

Originally Published in the News-Press on October 24, 2019

Last year, Women For a Better Lee – a grassroots citizens’ group led by women – set out to find a woman to run in 2020 for a seat on our all-male Board of County Commissioners (BoCC). We got close, but of course, close is never good enough.

Commissioner Larry Kiker’s passing last April created a vacancy on the BoCC and an excellent woman candidate was put forward for whom we strongly lobbied. 

Although offered the position, her past support for Planned Parenthood and a $100 donation to a female Democrat running for statewide office eventually sunk her appointment.  

A male was selected, one who “fit” with the commission, according to Governor DeSantis.

Disappointed and disgusted, Women For a Better Lee nonetheless persisted in seeking female candidates for the 2020 election. We spoke seriously with a few women, and explored the possibility with others. 

Not one wanted to step up. 

Reviewing the political landscape led us to wonder: there are women on the school board, women on the councils of the six municipalities within Lee County, a woman is our clerk of county courts. Yet the senior leaders of Lee County – the Board of County Commissioners, the county manager and the county attorney – are all male.

So what is it about our Board of County Commissioners that makes women reluctant to run? I asked the women themselves. 

One blamed the rigidity of the Republican establishment, the final arbiter of who runs for office. A Republican herself, she sought party support and was rejected. 

While we do not know the reason, party decision-makers missed the opportunity to promote a well-qualified woman for this office. Thus, even identifying with the party in power was not enough to break the grip that men hold on the BoCC.

Another pointed to the reality of campaign financing: it takes lots of money (an estimated $300,000+) to run for the BoCC and those who give the money are happy with the county commission as is. 

Is it just coincidental that most of this money comes from developers, attorneys and realtors who often have issues before the BoCC? 

One commissioner boasts of the many small $5 donations he receives; yes, he does, but the numerous $1,000 donations from a developer, his wife, son and other family members far outweigh the $5 donations from individuals attending fundraising barbecues. 

This unshakeable core of financial support for the current male commissioners is certainly one reason that some women do not run.  

Also of concern to potential women candidates was the prospect of negative advertising and its impact on family and career. 

A candidate with money to spend can campaign in a personal way, rather than on the issues. A candidate with limited funds is forced to choose between rebutting unfounded lies and speaking out on issues. Negative advertising sucks the life out of campaigns and for time-starved voters, doing the research required to separate truth from lie is difficult, if not impossible. 

Are men more thick-skinned than women and therefore move onto the BoCC by default?  Do men care less about their families than women?  Are we more judgmental towards women than men?  

I admit to not knowing the answers. What I do know is that our community needs to have a conversation about why so many smart, talented individuals – who just happen to be women – choose not to run for county commissioner.  

Unfortunately, when we fail to take advantage of the abilities and skills women have to offer, we see the dismal results displayed every second Tuesday in our county commission chambers.  

– Charlotte Newton is a member of Women For a Better Lee


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