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National NOW Times >> Winter, 2001 >> Article

NOW Targets Senate for Emergency Campaign to Save the Supreme Court

by Linda Berg

For many reasons, this was an election that will go down in history. No matter what the ultimate resolution of the presidential election, women voters turned the pundits' predictions inside out. Women voters defeated incumbents, increased the number of women governors and senators, and brought new feminists to the House of Representatives.

Progress in the Balance
As this paper goes to press, the U.S. is awaiting the third count this time by hand—of a portion of the votes in South Florida, as well as the results of the overseas absentee ballots, to learn who will be president. Feminists are also on edge waiting to see if NOW member Elaine Bloom, whose congressional district includes part of Palm Beach County, Fla., succeeded in taking out the incumbent chair of the House Social Security subcommittee, E. Clay Shaw.

"As we know, the outcome, and who sits in the oval office, can have a dramatic effect on all the progress we have made," says Ireland. "Not the least of the threats comes from expected changes on the U.S. Supreme Court, a court that even now cannot be counted to stand with us on women's rights and civil rights."

But Ireland also points out that no matter who nominates Supreme Court justices and other members of the federal judiciary, the Senate will have the last word by confirming or rejecting nominees.

The Senate is already improved with the election of strong candidates like Hillary Clinton, Debbie Stabenow and John Corzine. But as long as Majority Leader Lott reigns, the Senate will still be hostile toward women's rights and any Supreme Court appointees who are not political conservatives.

As an immediate post-election action, NOW PAC is launching an emergency campaign to save the Supreme Court by keeping pressure on Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, targeting races in 2002 to increase feminist representation in the Senate and taking advantage of redistricting to do the same in the House. NOW PAC is also keeping a close eye on state legislative redistricting fights to make sure that feminist incumbents are protected in the newly drawn districts.

Gender Gap Makes a Difference
While the media paint U.S. voters as unable to make a clear decision on who should be their next president, women were not confused about which candidate would more strongly protect their rights. Fifty-four percent of women voted for Gore, handing him the popular vote that had been widely predicted to go to Bush. If men alone had voted, Bush would have won the presidency hands-down.

The gender gap resulted in a 33 percent increase in the number of women senators and women governors, with an additional woman elected governor without a majority of women's votes.

"That's just a more encouraging way of saying we have gone from three to five women out of fifty governors and nine to 12 [or 13] out of 100 Senators," warns NOW/PAC President Patricia Ireland. "And women gained a total of three seats in the House. We have much more work to do before 2002!"

Hillary Leads Fabulous Feminists to the Senate
Feminists are cheering the strong women's rights supporters elected to the Senate by women voters, including: Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Deborah Stabenow, D-Mich., Jon Corzine, D-N.J., Mark Dayton, D-Minn., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. (if she is ultimately confirmed as the winner). Clinton, Stabenow and Carnahan will be the first women senators from their states.

NOW PAC is also celebrating the overwhelming re-election of incumbent Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., and Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who will continue their invaluable work on behalf of women. This work should be easier with the reinforcements feminist voters are sending them.

In what commentators had predicted to be a close race, Clinton's sweeping victory in the New York Senate race was the result of 61 percent of women voters, 91 percent of African American voters and 85 percent of Hispanic American voters giving her their support. Women voters also ensured Stabenow's victory over ultraconservative Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., and conventional wisdom that says incumbents are invincible. NOW PAC sent organizers to both Michigan and New York to solidify the women's vote for these candidates.

Women's Rights Supporters in the House
Five new NOW/PAC-endorsed feminists will be joining the House of Representatives. That number could rise to eight if Gerrie Schipske, Elaine Bloom and Dianne Byrum receive enough absentee ballots.

Three California state legislators Hilda Solis from east Los Angeles, Susan Davis from San Diego and Mike Honda from the Silicon Valley—will be terrific additions to the 107th Congress. Solis, a Latina, upset a nine-term fellow Democrat in a stunning primary race. Davis recaptured a seat NOW/PAC has been trying to win back since the disastrous 1994 elections. Honda, a Japanese American who spent part of his childhood in an internment camp in California during World War II, defeated a fellow assembly member for the open seat.

In another encouraging reversal of fortune, Jane Harman, who gave up her L.A. seat to run for governor, defeated the Republican who took her place and will once again head back to the House.

With her election to the St. Paul, Minn., congressional seat, state representative Betty McCollum becomes the first woman elected to Congress from Minnesota since the 1950s.

The percentage of women and people of color in the House will increase only marginally from the 106th Congress to the 107th. Women gained three seats; African Americans lost three seats; Asian Americans gained one seat and the number of Hispanic representatives remain unchanged. As usual, incumbents were well protected with 98 percent winning their re-election bids. Although Davis, Solis and Harman defeated sitting representatives, open seats continue to be the most promising opportunity for election to Congress. Out of the 41 (as of this writing) newly elected house members, 34 ran in open seats.

Women Governors Break New Ground
Democrat Ruth Ann Minner, who is a strong supporter of women's rights, was elected the first woman governor of Delaware with 69 percent of the women's vote. Women also returned NOW member Jeanne Shaheen to the governorship of New Hampshire, despite her refusal to take a no-income-tax pledge. Vermont NOW/PAC-endorsed Governor Howard Dean was re-elected with a strong 56 percent of the women's vote, despite being targeted for signing the civil unions bill into law. A majority of men voted for Shaheen's and Dean's opponents.

Increasing the ranks of women governors is also Judy Martz, R-Mont., whose leadership on women's rights issues remains to be seen.

"Feminists will pull out all the stops to elect more women's rights supporters to Congress in 2002," Ireland said. "While the new feminist legislators surely will shake things up and put up a good fight, we must promise to send them reinforcements in two short years."

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