"In a year when Time magazine pronounced feminism dead again, NOW's Political Action Committee helped elect eleven new feminists, including five women, who are heading to Capitol Hill to fight for our rights," said NOW/PAC Chair Patricia Ireland.
"Tammy Baldwin won a seat in the House as the first open lesbian elected to Congress, Chuck Schumer knocked Al D'Amato out of the Senate, and we defeated abortion procedures bans on state ballots in Colorado and Washington, so we have much to celebrate," Ireland noted. "On the other hand, at this rate it will take another two centuries before women have equal representation in Congress!"
Nearly 70 percent or 77 of the federal candidates endorsed by NOW/PAC won their races. Six new women were elected to the House and one to the Senate. However, as a result of retirements and the devastating loss of Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, women gained a net of only two seats in the House, for a total of 58 out of 435 House members, and stayed even in the Senate at nine out of 100.
In a country that is 51 percent women and approximately 30 percent people of color, the Senate is 91 percent men and 98 percent white.
Not only will candidates with the requisite experience be ready to run, but feminists will also have captured seats in the legislatures to ensure that state district lines are drawn to take full advantage of the women's vote. On Nov. 4, 1998, the 2000 election cycle started, and NOW PACs intend to be ready to seize new opportunities.
In California, Senator Barbara Boxer and Rep. Lois Capps were being strongly challenged by the right wing, and Santa Barbara NOW member Hannah Beth Jackson was making a strong bid for a state Assembly seat in Capps' district. With San Diego NOW member Chris Kehoe challenging Brian Bilbray for a House seat and longtime NOW supporter Gray Davis running for governor, NOW PACs had an opportunity to run coordinated campaigns to capture several seats for women's rights supporters in the state.
In Washington state, not only was Senator Patty Murray facing a religious political extremist challenge and Grethe Cammermeyer making a bid for the House, but organizers also had to fight against ballot initiatives banning abortion procedures and ending affirmative action.
Illinois activists fought against the loss of feminist Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, and Colorado voters had the opportunity to elect feminists for both governor and senator. That state's voters also faced two ballot measures attacking reproductive rights.
Baldwin was running in a House race in Wisconsin where Senator Russ Feingold appeared to be in trouble, and Mayor Roxanne Qualls' race for Congress in Cincinnati, Ohio, seemed to be a place where NOW/PAC could make a difference. The National Action Center sent PAC field organizers to all of these targeted districts to work with local NOW activists on campaigns.
Boxer and Murray won their Senate races decisively, running on solid progressive records against right-wing opponents. With NOW/PAC's endorsement and contribution, Schumer unseated entrenched abortion-rights foe D'Amato.
In Wisconsin, Feingold pulled through with an assist from the extraordinarily successful get-out-the-vote work on the Madison campus for Baldwin, a NOW 1998 Woman of Power award winner.
Capps retained her House seat, Jackson won her assembly race and progressives recaptured the governor's mansion and other top spots in California.
Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the first African American to serve as prosecutor and judge in Municipal and Common Pleas Court in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, won the House seat of retiring Louis Stokes. And longtime NOW supporters such as Jan Schakowsky of Chicago, Ill., Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas, Nev., and Grace Napolitano of the Los Angeles, Calif., area will now advocate for women's rights on Capitol Hill.
And, of course, the 1998 elections produced the demise of Newt Gingrich and a wake-up call to Clinton-obsessed Republicans.
Illinois Senator Carol Moseley-Braun was the only feminist incumbent loss in this election.
All of the seven women newly elected to the 106th Congress were elected in open seats - nationwide not one woman of any party won a challenge against a sitting incumbent. Male feminist challengers were more successful in their elections and in raising money. In addition to Schumer's defeat of D'Amato, Rush Holt defeated incumbent Mike Pappas in New Jersey, and in Pennsylvania, Joe Hoeffel defeated Jon Fox - all solid victories for suppporters of reproductive rights.
Women candidates who challenge incumbents may face even greater fundraising obstacles if a conventional wisdom develops that says women challengers cannot win. Unfortunately, no new Loretta Sanchez's triumphed in 1998 to counter that assumption and encourage other women to dare to challenge enemies of women's rights.
The good news is that every new woman elected to Congress campaigned as a women's rights and abortion rights supporter. Defying conventional political advice telling them to stick to safe subjects like education and social security, NOW/PAC candidates won with strong positions on abortion rights, hate crimes, violence against women, health care and lesbian and gay rights. Additionally, because turnout was low, NOW/PAC's long-standing emphasis on grassroots get-out-the-vote campaigning proved to be a winning strategy for many candidates across the country who succeeded in turning out their strongest supporters.
"Our only hope for progress is to change the faces of the people in power," said Ireland. "We will redouble our efforts to elect a Congress that looks like our country. We must pass campaign finance reform so that a silver spoon is not the most important qualification of any candidate. And we must focus the debate on important isues that propel the women's vote."
In a country that is 51 percent women and approximately 30 percent people of color, the Senate is 91 percent male and 98 percent white.