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Panel explores pivotal role of women in elections

Ferrier Stillman

Ferrier Stillman

One hundred years ago, women earned the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment. Political candidates and parties have been asking for their support ever since especially in recent election cycles.

“(Women) play a pivotal role because they are a huge voting block,” said Ferrier R. Stillman, partner at Tydings and Rosenberg LLP. “It’s not monolithic. Every woman doesn’t vote the same way but as we can see from this (2020) election, the women’s vote particularly the suburban women’s vote is being sought after incredibly strongly by both (Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe) Biden and (President and Republican nominee Donald) Trump.”

State Senator Mary Beth Carozza (R-Somerset, Worcester and Wicomico) doesn’t see women voting in a block.

“What I see is women who make their decisions by taking a multifaceted approach as opposed to being a single-issue voter,” she said. Women also take their own approach with whether they want to be involved in the political process which may range from using their role to encourage people to vote to being involved in organizations that support their priorities.

The Daily Record, as a part of our Women Who Lead magazine and networking events, will be hosting a virtual event on Oct. 22. Examining the pivotal role women play in elections, the event will feature a panel discussion on the topic with Carozza and Stillman and Dr. Ida E. Jones, university archivist at Morgan State University along with a talk by keynote speaker and politics and gender expert Dr. Melissa Deckman.

Dr. Ida E. Jones

Dr. Ida E. Jones

“If American is to live out its mandate as a country where all men are created equal, democracy needs to become the principal practice of all three branches of government and one supported, embraced, and exercised by all citizens and inhabitants,” Jones said.

Women are not only coming out to vote in large numbers but many have decided to run for office as well. The 2018 midterm election saw a record number of women winning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives as well as locally at the Maryland General Assembly.

Stillman notes it is important for women to not only vote but be involved in politics as well such as running for office and being in cabinet positions because it is a way to make sure their voices are heard.

“There is no reason why it should all be men but, as importantly, their life experiences, their opinions, their views of the world should be counted and it is important that they be counted,” she said. “… It is not just crucial that women vote and that their vote makes a huge difference but that they get involved in the election in other ways especially raising money because that is definitely something men have done more of (over the years).”

Carozza has found that many women need to be encouraged to run for elected public service which is not often the case with men. She points to herself as an example. She spent years working at the state and federal level including working as Minority Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee and Chief of Staff for U.S. Representative Steve Stivers (Ohio).

“I knew that I wanted to continue public service but I wanted to be back home on the Eastern Shore,” she said. “I did not know what that might look like.

”When she began to interact with women elected officials on the Eastern Shore, she was encouraged by the late Worcester County commissioner Louise Gulyas to run for her seat as she was not seeking re-election.

“Had she not personally encouraged me and approached me about doing it, I am not sure that I would be an elected (official as) first a Delegate and now State Senator representing my home area,” she said.

She also sought the council of Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey whom she worked with during the George W. Bush administration. The two were both attending the dedication of Bush’s Presidential Center in Texas when Sauerbrey asked her about her plans. Carozza told her she was back on the Eastern Shore and had been encouraged to run for Gulyas’s seat.

Sen. Mary Beth Carozza

Sen. Mary Beth Carozza

“She looked at me and goes ‘No’ and my heart just sank,” Carozza said. “I assumed that she might encourage me and then she paused and said ‘You should run for state delegate’.”

A new seat, 38C, was a brand new district with no incumbent. Sauerbrey also observed that Carozza’s qualifications would better serve her at a state and federal level.

“Number one, it was excellent advice and number two it was another woman elected official encouraging me to run for public office and with very sound and solid guidance,” she recalls. “… I believe that those of us who are elected women leaders have an obligation to encourage other women to consider it. It has to be a fit for the candidate because there is a tremendous personal and often financial sacrifice involved but these women should at least be encouraged to consider it and often times they don’t think about public office unless someone else brings it to their attention and I am a perfect example of it.”

A week before the panel discussion, Carozza told The Daily Record that she has been asked to serve in the Senate GOP caucus as the policy and communications chair.

Before her time in office, Carozza notes she was always comfortable at the staff level and had not considered public office until she was encouraged to do so.

“I certainly believe one of my roles now is to mentor young women which I have done not only on the staff side but now as an elected official to mentor them in a way that they understand that this is public service,” she said. “It is not politics and I specifically use the word public service — not only for women but for anyone going into public service — (on how they) should approach it. Politics sounds like a game to me and I believe that people who seek public office — their first priority should be the commitment to servicing their constituents.”

Another issue facing women is many may face setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have had to add childcare and schooling duties to their days due to facilities and schools being closed to in-person instruction.

“I think it will drive more (women) to vote because COVID is so devastating,” Stillman said. “They are going to want to do something about it. Therefore, women who didn’t vote in the past or didn’t vote in 2016, I think, are more likely to vote and I think it is going to affect people’s vote in terms of their judgment of how the pandemic has been handled (by candidates of both parties).”

Carozza does not believe the pandemic will inhibit women from becoming involved politically. But with the additional challenges of working from home and childcare, she said, “those are issues we have to hit head-on as a society and not just put that on women to figure it out.”

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