It’s time to get loud. We need more women in New Jersey’s politics. | Opinion – NJ.com

It’s time to get loud. We need more women in New Jersey’s politics. | Opinion – NJ.com

It’s time to get loud. We need more women in New Jersey’s politics. | Opinion – NJ.com

A group of women in attendance at an Essex County campaign event to register Latinas to vote in New Jersey #LatinasVoteNj. More than just mere support systems to their male counterparts, women can change the course of an election.
By Patricia Campos-Medina
In season six of House of Cards, President Claire Underwood looks straight at the camera and says, “It will be different for you and me; I will tell you the truth.”
Early in the series, viewers loved how Claire was ruthless in pursuit of her husband’s political agenda. It was common to watch President Frank Underwood ignore her talents and yet expect her to apply them to advance his own goals.
As long as Claire was helping his political success, she was useful. Her relevance in the show’s storyline was simply to support her husbands’ political triumphs. The moment she became the lead character, her truth mattered no longer.
Just before Christmas day, news broke that a 30-ish guy with a famous name was handpicked by male leaders as the heir apparent to the open congressional seat in CD-8, which includes Hudson County, one of the most diverse districts in New Jersey.
These men proudly paraded their endorsements with little concern for the lack of a primary election, the nepotism, the lack of experience, the gender inequity that the decision perpetuates in New Jersey’s politics.
A recent op-ed in the Jersey City Times aptly described the announcement as an example that in New Jersey, “…only a few people hold all the power and the voters are basically irrelevant….”
In this instance, the Democratic party leadership decision to crown a successor even before one vote was cast, shows that the men in control of New Jersey party politics adhere to the notion that women’s main role is simply a supportive one, there to give credibility to the machinations of their political ambitions. Their contributions are not valued enough to be a part of the power politics or included “in the room where it happens.”
New Jersey currently ranks 25th in the nation for the percentage of lawmakers who are women, a low rank for a deep blue state. According to recent data analysis,“ of the 120 elected officials making up the New Jersey Legislature, 84 of them are white, non-Hispanic, with a total of two-thirds of them being men.”
New Jersey only has two women in the congressional delegation, Rep. Mikie Sherrill CD-11, and Rep. Watson-Coleman CD-12 – the first African American woman to go to Congress from New Jersey.
New Jersey has had one female governor, Republican Christie Todd Whitman, and two lt. governors, a title only meant to soften the image of the man in charge. If you don’t believe me, look at what happened to Kim Guadagno.
She was as tough as nails as county sheriff, yet she couldn’t move beyond Chris Christie’s power-hungry persona. And our current Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, a political maverick on her own, has been quietly working hard trying to solve intractable problems at the state Department of Consumer Affairs. Yet, despite her creed, she is not even mentioned or considered for a run for governor in 2025.
Statewide political leaders like to say that New Jersey’s strength is its diversity, yet that diversity is lacking in our politics. Perhaps, more drastically when it comes to Latino representation. Despite Latinos becoming 21.6% of New Jersey’s population in the 2020 Census, our numbers in the state Legislature remain stagnant at around 9%. And while two Asian-American women were elected this last election, those numbers are far below their own population growth.
Women organized and helped the Democratic party take back Congress in 2016; they engaged voters locally to defeat President Trump and to re-elect a Democratic Governor last year. Yet despite all this party building, it has become clear women in New Jersey have lost ground.
While the population keeps getting younger and more diverse with more women and women of color graduating from college and holding professional degrees, New Jersey’s political leadership remains male, white, older, and exclusionary.
I am an eternal optimist who believes in the power of organized people. As we demonstrated after 2016, when it comes to our rights, it is our responsibility to hold a line in the sand for future generations of women who want to aspire to a position of leadership.
It is time to be loud about what it will take for women to run and win on their own terms. And we all know power concedes nothing without a demand.
Our demand must start with fair and competitive primary elections where voters can evaluate candidates’ credentials and choose who is better qualified to serve. For this to happen, New Jersey must eliminate the county party ballot line which gives party-endorsed candidates a 30% advantage in votes and in money. We must also make the redistricting process independent and community driven as outlined by the Fair Districts NJ Coalition.
We must also become intentional in supporting any candidate who has the courage to challenge the status quo. And if that person is a woman of color, support her with a check. Remember, national groups assume a blue state like New Jersey is progressive, so they often ignore pleas for grassroots voter of color engagement to challenge party incumbents.
And to all men in politics, stop making excuses for continuing the behavior of the men before you. Stop telling us there are no qualified women of color, no qualified Latinas. Go out and recruit them, train them and help them expand their network of donors so they can raise money and be competitive.
The guys might just get away with handpicking another guy again this year, but our fight is for the future of New Jersey. Not for its past.
A house of cards doesn’t stand forever.
Patricia Campos-Medina is a labor, political and immigrant rights activist. She also appears on the podcast #ActivistaRiseUp.
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