Sonoma County women interested in running for public office have many ways to begin. They can join a commission, for example, or get involved with a local nonprofit. But they’ll need to be prepared to break through some barriers, overcome double standards and even lose an election or two.
That was the message the county’s three female members of the Board of Supervisors imparted to a Santa Rosa audience of about 50 people, most of them women, at a public panel discussion Wednesday night. Supervisors Shirlee Zane, Susan Gorin and Lynda Hopkins all shared how they decided to run and offered insights into what they learned while campaigning and serving in office.
“You have to be resilient. You have to have a sense of humor. You have to be able to laugh at yourself (and) not laugh at people, but laugh with people,” Zane, the chairwoman of the board, told the crowd gathered in a meeting hall off Corby Avenue. “You also need to do your homework and do it really well, because when you go out there and vote on an issue, there are people’s lives at stake. You can never study an issue enough.”
The event was presented by KBBF 89.1FM in collaboration with the Sonoma County chapter of the National Organization for Women and the KBBF radio program Women’s Spaces. Moderated by Elaine B. Holtz, president of the local NOW chapter and host of Women’s Spaces, the talk was held in part to inspire other potential female candidates in light of Zane, Gorin and Hopkins becoming the board’s first-ever female majority earlier this year.
During the discussion, supervisors reflected on the paths that led them to the seats they hold today. Zane’s past work includes serving as CEO of the county’s nonprofit Council on Aging, while Gorin held seats on Santa Rosa’s school board and City Council and Hopkins is an organic farmer who emerged on the political scene while involved in negotiations around a proposed west county development.
But they all faced challenges along the way. Gorin recalled that after she lost her first City Council race, she went into a “political black hole” for awhile before getting involved in government again and eventually launching a successful second campaign.
“You have to emotionally be prepared for the rough and tumble of competitive politics and you have to be willing to suffer a loss,” Gorin said. “Because, entirely, that is a possibility.”
And Hopkins said she was “absolutely shocked” to find that the most common question she was asked on the campaign trail involved how she could run for office when she had two young children at home.
“The other thing that I’ve learned is that even once you’re elected, if a male supervisor brings a kid to a meeting or an event, that’s cute and adorable,” Hopkins said. “If a mom does that, it’s like, ‘Really? You couldn’t find a babysitter?’ ... There is a huge double standard.”
Santa Rosa resident Katie Hodges, 36, came to the event with her 9-week old daughter because she said she’s thinking about running for office someday. She left feeling motivated to meet with elected officials to explore what boards or commissions she might be able to join.