The 1992 election produced a 70 percent increase in the percentage of women in Congress. There were several keys to this record jump, perhaps none as important as the sheer number of skilled women on ballots across the country.
As Jennifer Lawless, director of American University’s Women and Politics Institute, knows, it takes a candidate to win a run for office.
Two decades after the “Year of the Woman,” the institute brought together a handful of candidates from 1992 (when a gallon of gas cost $1.05) to honor them for the role they played in the historic wave. Democrat or Republican, winner or loser, each expressed pride in—and no regret over—the risk they took.
“These are the women who lit the fire, who called attention to women’s underrepresentation, who threw their hats into a ring into which very few women’s hats had ever been thrown,” Lawless said at the March 19 event. “[They] paved the way for generations of women to think about running for office, to run for office, and to win elections. These are the women who made 1992 a historic year; these are the women who sought to change the face of American politics, literally.”
As each woman recalled her experience during brief remarks, emotions in the Katzen Arts Center’s Abramson Family Recital Hall ran the gamut.
Among the highlights:
- Sylvia Garcia, who ran for Congress in Texas: “While it’s great to celebrate Women’s History Month and look back at 1992, isn’t it regretful that 2012 will probably be remembered as the year of the attack on women? Rather than celebrating successes, we’re having to fight those elements in our country that are trying to turn back the clock. That’s why it’s important for women to run.”
- Josie Heath, Senate candidate from Colorado: “In 1992 we thought a woman’s place was in the House and the Senate. We think that same thing in 2012."
- Connie Morella, longtime congresswoman from Maryland and now ambassador in residence at the School of Public Affairs: “In 1992, 24 women at one time were added to the number of women in Congress. Why were there so many women running? I think because they saw that women could make a difference in Congress.”
- Claire Sargent, Senate candidate from Arizona: “I never dreamed 20 years ago that we would still be fighting the choice battle . . . Some of us were accused of running because we were women in 1992. In fact some said we campaigned on, ‘I’ve got breasts, vote for me.’ Well, I said and I say again, ‘It’s about time we voted for someone with breasts, after all we’ve been voting for boobs long enough.”
- Ellen Wedum, congressional candidate from Indiana: “I was rooting through my old, old files, and I found a guest column that I had written back in 1992 on campaign finance reform which was published in the Lafayette Journal and Courier on September 15, 1992. I want to read to you the first two sentences. ‘Campaign reform isn’t a major issue in most people’s minds. The immediate concerns about jobs, the economy, and our exploding national debt are the hot topics of this year’s election.’ Well, some things have changed in the last 20 years, but much has remained the same."