Progressive politicians call for more women in government

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By Alicia Adamczyk, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 13, 2014

After Michigan’s controversial abortion insurance bill went into effect Thursday, five progressive female politicians urged University students to fight back against the perceived injustice by running for office themselves at an event held in Rackham Auditorium Thursday night.

More than 100 students and community members attended “Changing the Game: Progressive Women in Government,” which was hosted by the College Democrats’ Women’s Issues Committee, FemDems, in honor of Women’s History Month.

Debbie Dingell, congressional candidate and member of the Democratic National Committee, State Sen. Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor), State Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D–Detroit), Washtenaw County Commissioner Felicia Brabec and Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence were panelists at the discussion.

The politicians addressed a number of issues ranging from the controversial abortion insurance law to the media’s obsession with Hillary Clinton’s hair.

However, the theme that dominated the hour-and-a-half-long event was the need for more women to run for political office at national, state and even local levels. The politicians repeatedly referenced the fact that the percentage of women holding office in the Michigan Legislature — 18.9 percent — is at a 20-year low, noting that this leaves women’s voices and needs at a disadvantage.

“Don’t wait,” Brabec said. “Run. We need you.”

“We need to step up so we’ll be heard,” Lawrence added.

The leaders also stressed the importance of mentorship — whether from a male or female — and the need for women to support each other in campaigns, careers and in life instead of seeing each other as competitors.

Late last month, Dingell declared her candidacy to fill her retiring husband Rep. John Dingell’s (D–Mich.) congressional seat. Though Warren formed an exploratory committee to consider a run, she later opted to stay in Lansing.

While education, the wage gap and health parity were also discussed at length, the issue of choice received the most passionate responses from several of the panelists. Dingell called the passage of the abortion insurance rider “absolutely outrageous.”

The bill requires individuals who receive insurance through an employer to purchase an additional abortion rider at their own expense and is not available to women who purchase their own individual policies. Because women must have the rider to cover abortions resulting from rape or incest, Michigan Democrats have branded it as “rape insurance.”

Proponents of the bill say it allows people who are morally opposed to abortion to opt out of paying for health plans that cover the procedure. The legislature first passed the bill in 2012, when Republican Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed it. It became law after Right to Life Michigan gathered 300,000 petition signatures in support of the bill, and both houses passed it again in December.

Because the signatures qualified the measure as a citizen’s initiative process, it went into effect without for Snyder’s signature.

“It’s inexcusable,” Dingell said. “I could use a lot of words but I don’t want to use profanity today.”

Warren, who represents Ann Arbor in the Michigan Senate, said while some may view choice as a niche issue, it may come off as too narrow. She added it is the most telling issue of a politician’s core values and beliefs.

“I don’t view it as too narrow because in some ways, choice is the best values indicator,” Warren said. “In some ways it’s the only thing I need to know about a candidate to know if I want to support them or not.”

Tlaib said she ran for office because of her love of community — not as a pro-choice candidate. However, she said she quickly became a prominent pro-choice activist while in office and, like Dingell, said she was outraged at the actions of the Republican-dominated Michigan legislature.

“The way they shape it, they’re calling me a killer, a murderer, on the House floor. They have no idea,” Tlaib said. “The infant mortality in my city is so high, but you don’t want to spend the money on those children … it’s very hypocritical.”

Infant mortality is the number one killer of children in Detroit, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.

While Dingell said there is still much to be done to help women reach parity in society, she is optimistic about the future for women in the country.

Dingell plans to run on a platform that includes a focus on health parity for women, but said increased funding for education is also crucial.

“I’m really worried about access to education,” she said in an interview after the event. “Too many students are graduating with debt they can’t afford.”

Correction appended: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misstated State Senator Warren's plans for the upcoming election season. Though she considered running for U.S. Congress, she later opted to remain in Lansing.