Female leaders point toward success.

Angry Women Speak Up: A Few Good Women: From left, Anna Caballero, Karin Strasser Kauffman and Jane Parker represent the exception to the norm locally and across the country. Heidi E. McGurrin

Of the 535 members of the US Congress, 79 are women. The other 456 members are men. Some people, women included, point to this as progress. Frankly, I’m disgusted.

Maybe I’m just a glass-half-empty kinda gal—or rather, I see the glass as 85 percent empty. I’m sure there are more than 79 qualified, capable female public servants out there.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, today 81 women hold statewide elective executive offices in the US; that’s 25.7 percent of 315 positions.

Locally, Salinas looks like the exception to the boy’s club rule. Mayor Anna Caballero and four councilwomen sit on the seven-person city council. But the county’s other large jurisdictions look like the rest of the US: In Monterey, one woman sits on the City Council, along with four men. And all five elected County Supervisors are men.

I know we’ve got talented, smart, inspiring women in Monterey County. So why aren’t they running for and winning offices?

On May 2 at the National Steinbeck Center, four elected women shared their stories in a panel discussion titled, “Well-Behaved Women Never Make History,” stealing a quote from Susan B. Anthony.

The speakers included Salinas Mayor Anna Caballero, the first woman and the first Latina to hold the position of mayor in the city’s 124-year history, Saratoga Mayor Kathleen King, author and former Monterey County Supervisor Karin Strasser Kauffman, and Jane Parker, a former Monterey Peninsula College trustee who narrowly lost a race for a seat on the Board of Supervisors to Jerry Smith in 2004.

Dozens of women sat in the audience, along with a few men, and listened to stories about why the panelists ran for office and what lessons they learned while campaigning and serving.

I like Strasser Kauffman’s answer the best: “I ran because I got mad,” she said, “to a point where I couldn’t tolerate it.”

Strasser Kauffman, who lives in Carmel Valley, taught political science and women’s studies for more than 20 years before running for county supervisor in the ‘80s.

“I told my students you need to be political to really make a change,” she said. “The more I got involved, the more upset I got—especially with the County.”

She and her neighbors wanted to see more stop signs and traffic-calming projects in the Valley, so that their kids would be safer. She described the County’s zoning policies as “terrible,” and said the Supes at that time had a reputation for disrespecting the public.

In 1984, she was elected to the Board of Supervisors, a position she held for nine years before retiring to serve as the founding chair of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Council.

The women talked about what they learned on the campaign trail. Parker, who said she plans to run again, maybe in three years (following Smith’s first term) or maybe in seven, said, “I had no idea how strongly bitten I was going to be, and how much I was going to love the process, how much I was going to care and how it doesn’t let you go.”

Caballero advised against making snarky comments in public: “Keep them in your head, or save them until you go home to your husband.”

And then, at the end of the evening, the how-do-you-balance question popped up, as it always does before a group or successful women.

“I would say don’t even try,” she said, referring to her sold-out book that describes a “new breed” of superstar businesswomen who frankly acknowledge the tradeoffs they made in their personal and professional lives.

“Don’t try to have a balanced life,” Strasser Kauffman said. “Don’t try to juggle. Let something go. And it doesn’t have to be forever. It gives you tremendous freedom to be unpopular but to make the right decisions.

“Balancing—that’s a trap we lay on women and we buy that and we feel guilty and inadequate and we really shouldn’t.”


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