Panel: Women a hot topic in presidential race

Published: October 1st, 2012

Category: News

State Senator Evelyn Lynn (R-Daytona Beach), far right, addresses the crowd gathered Sept. 19 in the Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom. From left, Lynn Leverty, UF senior political science lecturer; State Senator Nan Rich (D-Weston); and UF Law Professor Shani King look on. (Photo by Nicole Safker)

By Nicole Safker (JD 12)
Staff writer

In the midst of the pre-election frenzy, politicians on both sides should take heed: women may just be the key to the outcome of the upcoming election.

This was the primary message of “Women, Work and Family in the 2012 Presidential Campaign,” a forum held at UF Law that packed the Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom last Wednesday.

Notable panelists addressed the standing-room-only crowd and gave their take on the impact women will have on the election, as well as the impact the election’s outcome will have on women.

The bipartisan panel, sponsored by the Gainesville League of Women Voters, the Levin College of Law, and the UF Association of Academic Women, featured Shani King, associate professor and co-director of UF Law’s Center for Children and Families; Lynn Leverty, UF political science lecturer; and two long-standing Florida state senators – Nan Rich, a Democrat from Weston, and Evelyn Lynn, a Republican from Daytona Beach. Former Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan moderated the panel.

Women are crucial to the election, Hanrahan said in her introductory remarks, because they make up 53 percent of voters, but only 14 percent of the national legislature — a statistic which puts the United States in 91st place worldwide for female leadership.

King, who is an advocate for children’s rights, addressed the notion of “feminization of poverty.” With the rise of female-headed households, the stagnation of wages and the loss of critical funding for government-sponsored services such as subsidized daycare, women have found themselves falling below the poverty line, King said. Since women are primarily the caretakers for children, King said they struggle to balance the demands of taking care of a family with the strain of supporting their households financially. Despite this phenomenon’s prevalence, King said these women’s voices are becoming lost in the presidential race.

“I was disillusioned and disheartened to find that my inclination was right,” King said, media are not giving poor women attention either. He cited statistics based on election coverage that was primarily focused on major platform planks affecting the middle class and hardly mentioned poverty-related issues.

Lynn drew on her long career in the state legislature to discuss the difficulties women political leaders face in a world that is still largely dominated by men.

“Women need to work together with men,” Lynn said, noting her role in leading the bipartisan Women’s Caucus in the Florida Legislature and the various ways women were able to join together and have their voices heard on issues ranging from childcare to reproductive freedom.

Rich, after announcing her bid for the upcoming gubernatorial race in 2014, criticized Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney for his divisive comments regarding 47 percent of Americans being “self-indulgent victims.” She discussed the progress women have made in politics and the importance of working together, citing her long-standing friendship with Lynn and the bipartisan strides they have made working to bring attention and state funding to issues such as expanding KidCare, the state-funded healthcare program for children.

Leverty rounded out the discussion, discussing the importance of women not only in the electoral process, but in the political process in general. Citing various studies, Leverty said that women, who currently make up only 14 percent of the House and Senate, must maintain at least this level of representation or they “risk losing their voice.” This is especially important in the upcoming election, she said, because many women are term-limiting out of their positions and will be replaced by men, further lowering the critical mass of women in Congress.

The central message of the forum was this: regardless of political affiliation, women are a critical voting bloc and, as Lynn said, “women’s issues are everyone’s issues.”