The Hillarys of Monterey County
Equal representation for women in local government remains out of reach.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Like the recent quake in San Jose, 2007’s election season got people thinking about the Big One to come – the vote that will determine the country’s next president. The candidate generating the most buzz is well-heeled powerhouse Hillary Clinton. But pollsters, pundits and regular people all have been asking: Are voters ready to elect a woman to the nation’s highest office?
It seems like a loaded question, a throwback to the days of male domination. Surely women already have established that they are just as professionally capable as men. Men’s and women’s graduation rates from high school and college are now within three percentage points of one another. Women make up half of the population (or more precisely, 51 percent of the United States, 50 percent of California and 48 percent of Monterey County). So why aren’t half of all public offices held by women?
A recent CBS News/New York Times poll found that roughly nine out of 10 Americans – both women and men – say they’d vote for a qualified woman of their own party for president. That reflects a steady increase since 1955, when just half of Americans said they’d vote for a woman.
But the same poll revealed that only 55 percent of today’s Americans – 60 percent of men and 51 percent of women – believe the country is ready for a female president. How can it be that so many are willing to vote for a woman, yet barely half think the country is ready for her? Does it reflect a lack of confidence in our nation’s sense of gender equality?
“Everybody gives you the answer they think you want to hear, which is ‘I’m not a sexist pig,” says Susan Estrich, Fox News pundit, University of Southern California law professor and author of The Case for Hillary Clinton. “The only way to get to the truth is to say, ‘Of course you’re ready, but what do you think the bloke down the block would say?’ ” Adds Estrich, who ran Democrat Michael Dukakis’ unsuccessful bid for the White House in 1988: “What I think it reflects is the fact that women still have a hard time convincing people that they have the executive skills, the toughness, the confidence, the Margaret Thatcher of it all.”
To gain some local perspective, the Weekly looked at the proportion of women holding public office around the county. While the results aren’t surprising, they show that when it comes to women’s representation in government, the county still has a long way to go.
Men on top
In early October, the Weekly crunched the numbers of elected and top managerial officials in the governments of Monterey County, Pacific Grove, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Seaside, Monterey, Salinas, Marina, Sand City and Del Rey Oaks.
Carmel-by-the-Sea currently has the highest proportion of women on its City Council, with three of five (though Councilwoman Karen Sharp was appointed in August to replace resigning Councilman Mike Cunningham). Salinas and Pacific Grove follow with three females among seven councilmembers. Dead last are the Seaside City Council and the county Board of Supervisors, with no females at all. On average, women hold 29 percent of local elected offices.
In terms of top government managers – including department heads, division chiefs, attorneys and clerks – Seaside leads with 60 percent women. The county again brings up the rear with 14 percent, or three of 21 executive managers. Across all the jurisdictions, on average, women comprise less than one-third of managerial posts.
But numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. There’s also the question of division of labor, and generally speaking, women tend to play supporting roles to males. Currently, all eight city managers, plus the county administrator, are male. All of the librarians are female. All but one of the clerks is female, and all of the police and fire chiefs are male – though the list does not include Carmel Valley Fire Protection District, which has a woman chief. Only two of the eight city attorneys and two of the eight mayors are women.
Estrich says that’s typical: “We have equality at the bottom and conscious and unconscious discrimination at the top.”
Then there are the boards, commissions, committees and councils that make big decisions about the places we live. On average, women make up one-fifth of the members of the boards that control local waste and water management, water and air regulation, Fort Ord reuse and jurisdictional boundaries. Only one of the 12 members of the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency board is a woman, compared with three of seven on the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board. All of the current board chairs are men.
With several exceptions, males also tend to dominate bodies that deal with planning, agriculture, architecture and building appeals. Women generally make up the majority of boards concerned with animals, libraries, arts, culture and children. Averaging all of the jurisdictions together, bodies with the most balanced numbers of men and women relate to historic resources, economic development, neighborhood improvement and recreation.
Local school boards also tend to have more gender parity. Looking at Carmel Unified, Alisal Union, Monterey Peninsula Unified, North Monterey County Unified, Pacific Grove Unified, Salinas City Elementary and Salinas Union school districts, the number of women ranges from zero of five (Salinas City) to five of seven (Monterey Peninsula). Women, on average, make up 44 percent of the boards.
Overall, the three-in-10 proportion of women in local elected offices disappoints former County Supervisor Karin Strasser Kauffman. “That’s not acceptable in a community as diverse and talented as ours,” she says. “You really can’t say in Monterey County that women aren’t capable of leading. Someone, somewhere, is not working hard enough to ensure that there are enough women in leadership roles.”
Why does the county have the lowest proportion of women in top positions? Why do Seaside and Carmel have the highest?
County Administrator Lew Bauman notes that he has no control over who gets elected; the public chose an all-male Board of Supervisors and men for the positions of sheriff, treasurer, auditor-controller, assessor and district attorney. “Within the elected ranks, I think it’s just the quality of the candidates and the decision of the electorate,” he says.
The supervisors have appointed men to another five top positions. Bauman has made three department head hires since beginning work as administrator in 2005, and two of those – the librarian and registrar of voters – went to women. The third position, public defender, went to a man. Bauman’s predecessor, Sally Reed, filled many of the other posts.
The county’s male-heavy top tier may simply reflect tenure, Bauman says: “You have a lot of carryover from the earlier years of male-dominated government. You can look at it as ‘old school’ or dedicated public servants – but dedicated public servants that come from a different era, frankly.”
If women don’t apply for certain positions, he adds, he obviously can’t hire them. “It seems women are under-represented in science and engineering, in the public works arena,” he says. “I think they’re well represented in the legal arena, in the library disciplines.”
Strasser Kauffman – who co-wrote a book, Beyond Superwoman, about female CEOs in Silicon Valley who shucked the “cultural imperative for women to do everything for everybody” – offers more insight as to why double-X chromosomes continue to be under-represented in Monterey County politics.
In 1984, Strasser Kauffman became the second woman ever elected to the local Board of Supervisors, after Barbara Shipnuck. In 1993, Edith Johnsen and Judy Pennycook joined the ranks of female supervisors, bringing the historical total to four.
“When I first ran for office, being a female was an issue for some,” Strasser Kauffman says, barely touching her black coffee. “For some people, that seemed to solve the problem – we now had women. But I never expected the board to be entirely devoid of females.”
She worries that all-male boards make decisions from too narrow a gender perspective and tend to appoint men to other governing bodies. “If you’re only going to have male supervisors, you’re going to have male representatives on these powerful boards, and there’s a trickle effect,” she says.
In addition, media images of all-male groups at government meetings and groundbreakings send a message that men in power are the status quo, subtly discouraging women from seeking public office, she says.
The fact that fewer women run for office also may be a function of poor mentoring of potential female candidates. “It’s generally not an absence of qualified women,” she says, “it’s an absence of willingness to actively recruit them. Men around here have been committed and successful at finding replacements for themselves. That hasn’t happened as much for young women. We need to encourage them early on – in girlhood – to consider leadership as one our their life goals. Traditionally, as a society, we encourage men.”
Strasser Kauffman sees a connection between the low numbers of female heads of private companies and the dearth of women in government. “Those two sectors really reflect each other,” she says. “When you have women in top government posts, they are seen as more capable in the business sector. The image transfers.”
Though careful to note that leadership styles vary from individual to individual, Strasser Kauffman notices a general difference in men’s and women’s priorities as leaders.
When she served with another woman supervisor, she says, issues came up that might not have been addressed on an all-male board – for example, a countywide pregnancy program and a waste management plan. “I think women like to see things cleaned up properly on the streets. And that applies to programs and to budgets,” she says.
But even if women and men have different proclivities, Strasser Kauffman thinks government errs when it divides power along traditional lines – women primarily dealing with arts and schools, men with money and planning. In her view, gender-balanced (and ethnically representative) decision-making leads to more buy-in from the public.
“If we don’t have diverse perspectives on those boards and commissions, I think we lose out,” she says. “When you all have the same background, you can work fast. But an efficient decision is not always the best decision.”
Estrich says that men tend to appoint other men to top posts, or to groom them as successors, often unconsciously. “When they think of who the perfect person is, he doesn’t have breasts,” she says. “When we think about a replacement, we all want junior versions of ourselves.”
To follow up on that idea, the Weekly asked each supervisor to name three women in his district he could envision as his successor. Supervisors Fernando Armenta and Dave Potter both laugh at the question but decline to answer it. Armenta says he’d need to discuss the question with potential candidates before naming anyone, and Potter says he’d rather not name any successors, male or female, because he is running for re-election.
Armenta adds that, while he would like to see more women in higher office, too few women seek it. When the supervisors interviewed applicants for the CEO of Natividad Medical Center, he says, there were no females in the pool. He also complains that The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), in which he is active, has too few women in top positions.
Sexist attitudes factor in, he admits: “Some people are not comfortable with women leaders.”
Supervisor Lou Calcagno has no trouble naming three potential female successors. Moss Landing Harbor District board member and alternate Local Agency Formation Commissioner Peggy Shirrel could do the job, he says, as could North County school board president and LULAC chapter vice president Diana Jimenez. Castroville Water District board member and library activist Nancy Ausonio also would be a good fit, he says.
Supervisor Simon Salinas doesn’t hesitate in naming three women: Gonzalez City Councilmember Maria Orozco, Greenfield City Councilmember Yolanda Teneyuque, and former King City high school trustee and business owner Tina Lopez.
Supervisor Jerry Smith could not be reached for comment.
Woman leaders are a part of the county’s history, thanks to local females who got involved in traditionally male-dominated county government ahead of the curve.
Grace Darcy, who co-founded the Women’s Professional Network and directed the Carmel Valley Chamber of Commerce in the early 1980s, is one longtime local pulling for more woman power in government.
Within the county, women tend to occupy “subservient positions, secretaries and so forth,” Darcy notes. She blames the general lack of women in higher office on the notion that women are daunted by the process of campaigning. “I think that’s scary to some women,” she says. “I think we’re a little bit shy sometimes.”
Then there’s the social influence. Men are reared to elbow their way to the top and to succeed financially, Darcy says, while women are more likely to pursue higher education for learning’s sake. That creates a sort of law of the jungle in the workplace, giving men more money and power – unless leaders make a conscious effort to create an environment that encourages female leadership. Darcy theorizes that Carmel and Seaside have the highest percentages of women in top government positions because those cities are welcoming to female business owners.
Seaside historian Carol McKibben, who from 1999-2001 directed the Gender and Development Certificate Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, offers another take on why the city has such strong representation of females at the top: “The presence and power of black women.” Although the current City Council is all male, McKibben notes that three African-American former councilwomen – Ira Lively, Pearl Carey and Helen Rucker – laid the foundation for strong female leadership in the city.
“We have been a part of a strong African-American community, period,” says Rucker, who currently sits on the Monterey Peninsula Unified school board.
Rucker says she’d like to mentor a young person to fill her position when she retires, but the most promising youth tend to be too busy – in the home, at work and volunteering in the community. “It’s especially true for women, and more so for black women. They need much more support,” she says. “You have to have a strong husband to put yourself out there, particularly in the African-American community, because the men see themselves as the head of the household. It’s just the tradition.”
McKibben says that a turning point for women in Seaside government came in the 1980s, when city management adopted affirmative action policies. “That’s when women really entered the city workforce in large numbers,” McKibben says. Hiring Ray Corpuz as city manager in 2003 also led to a spike in female leadership. “I think every department head that Ray Corpuz has hired has been a woman,” she says. “Women are in power in Seaside government because of him.”
Another trailblazer for women in local government is Marit Evans, now 81, who served on the county Planning Commission for 13 years beginning in the mid-1970s and currently sits on the board of land-use activist group LandWatch. Evans says she broke ground as the first woman chair of both the commission and the Central Coast Water Control Board.
The mere presence of women on the Planning Commission changed the “old boys”-type behavior of the men, she says. “Before it became an issue, the men would tell dirty jokes at lunchtime. Then they got scared,” she says with a laugh.
In Evans’ experience, female planning commissioners tend to pay more attention to detail, especially when reviewing environmental impact reports. “Let me tell you, the women on the commission did their homework,” she says. “The men – I don’t know how they got away with this – would sometimes come in with their packets totally unopened.”
Empowerment by example
Though Evans is disappointed that women still aren’t equitably represented in Monterey County, she’s pleased to see more women in local office now than when she got involved 30 years ago. She takes heart from organizations such as Girls Inc., a program of local nonprofit ACTION Monterey County that encourages young women to seek leadership positions.
“Girls Inc. is providing very important and much-needed mentoring and encouragement,” says Jane Parker, ACTION’s associate director. “It builds the girls’ self-confidence. They think about themselves in an environment that is supportive. Ultimately, hopefully, it will lead to many more women running for office and leading Fortune 500 companies.”
Parker encourages girls to seek public office through her own example. Though she lost to Jerry Smith in the 2004 race for District 4 supervisor, she plans to run again in the June election.
Marina Mayor Ila Mettee-McCutchon says she also is “seriously considering” announcing her candidacy for the post. Mettee-McCutchon, who is one of two local female mayors and sits on a number of male-dominated boards, says that after 26 years in the Army, “I’m sort of used to being the only female in the room.”
As an Army commander, Mettee-McCutchon noticed that lower-ranking males sometimes had a hard time viewing her as a leader. “Some of the males, frankly, were intimidated by that. Either intimidated or irritated, I don’t know which,” she says. “People try to challenge women all the time. You just have to be confident and competent, and treat everybody equally, and hope that they get it.”
Mettee-McCutchon thinks it will be “a while” before women are equally represented in local government. “And not because there aren’t competent women out there,” she says. “Women divide their time more frequently than men do between the family and the career. Sometimes a woman, even if she’s better than the man [candidate], will be reluctant to run for public office.”
But for Stephanie Loose of the Salinas chapter of the League of Women Voters, gender is a non-issue in elections. “I’m always encouraged to see women there, but I’m excited by well-educated, qualified candidates,” she says. “We haven’t been sexist as a county. We’ve elected women in the past.”
From anomaly to minority
In Washington, D.C., women have inched from the margins into a solid minority in the 110th Congress. From 1985 to 2007, the representation of women in the U.S. Senate rose from 2 to 16 of 100; and in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 23 to 74 of 435.
California has been on top of the trend, with women serving as both of its U.S. senators and 20 of its 53 representatives. According to EMILY’s List, a political action committee that works to get pro-choice Democratic women elected, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both of California, are the Senate’s only female committee chairs. Three women currently chair House committees, none from the Golden State. But California’s Juanita Millender-McDonald chaired the House Administration committee until her death in April. (She was replaced by a man.) And in November 2006, California’s Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as the first female Speaker of the House, becoming the highest-ranking elected woman in U.S. history.
Compared with the rest of the world, women’s representation in U.S. government, at about 17 percent, is exactly average. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, that’s the global percentage of women in national governing bodies. Nordic countries come closest to gender parity at 42 percent, and the Americas follow with about 20 percent. Europe (excluding the Nordic nations) takes third with 18 percent, and Arab nations trail with 9 percent.
The United States’ regional rank is buoyed by its neighbors. Averaging the percent of women in each nation’s two governing houses, Canada’s government is 28 percent female and Mexico’s is 20 percent. Argentina leads South America with 39 percent, while Columbia lags with 10 percent.
Women have served as presidents or prime ministers of dozens of nations – among them Great Britain, Israel, India, Pakistan, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Ireland, Iceland, New Zealand, Finland, the Philippines, Guyana, Latvia, Panama, Mozambique, Indonesia, Canada, Germany, Liberia, Switzerland and Chile. Of the United Nation’s 192 member countries, women currently lead 17.
So if America isn’t ready for a female president, it’s running out of excuses. And Grace Darcy, for one, is running out of patience.
“I’m 85 years old and I wanna tell you, people of my generation have been waiting for an awful long time,” she says. In addition to electing a woman to the White House, she wants the United States to adopt a constitutional amendment that would guarantee equal rights for all Americans regardless of gender. She also would like the federal government to recognize that women deserve equal pay for equal work. “We have only one right in the Constitution, and that is the right to vote,” she says bitterly. “All they’ve done to us is kick us in the teeth.”
Needless to say, Darcy’s got her candidate for the 2008 presidential election. “We women who are older are desperate to see a woman in the White House,” she says. “Whether you like her or you don’t like her, I think Hillary’s womanliness will prevail.”