Campaign funds could be used to pay for child care under proposal by Assemblyman Rob Bonta
Men dominate California lawmaking, and an East Bay assemblyman thinks child care duties hold women back from elected office.
Four North Bay female officials — and one man — agree.
They are endorsing a bill introduced this week by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, an Oakland Democrat, that would allow men and women running in local and state elections to use campaign funds to pay for child care.
Bonta said his own experience as a father of three holding public office since 2007 motivated his proposal, which is designed to promote “gender equity” among candidates for offices from school board to governor.
The state Legislature is 30 percent female this year — with 36 women out of 120 Assembly and Senate members. While the number of women in the Legislature has increased from 23 percent in 2017, their ranks are still nowhere close to their 51 percent share of the state population as a whole.
In 1975, there were only three female lawmakers and it wasn’t until 1999 that women accounted for more than one-fourth of the Legislature.
“We’ve moved from unacceptable to needs improvement,” he said. “We want to remove barriers so our Legislature can reflect what California looks like.”
Federal candidates can already use campaign funds to pay for child care.
Bonta’s bill, AB 220, would amend state campaign finance law and is gender neutral, he said. “It doesn’t assume that only women need child care. It’s for parents; for moms and dads.”
But Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, a mother of two who is pregnant with a third child, said women provide more child care and perform more household chores than men, based on studies of households with two working parents.
“I do think it is a barrier for women (seeking office),” she said.
When she campaigned for office in 2016, Hopkins knocked on doors with her younger daughter in a body pack and her husband, Emmett, pushing the other in a stroller. It “never crossed my mind” to use campaign funds to pay for child care, she said.
Bonta’s bill is “a fantastic idea” that will help working parents run for office, Hopkins said.
Victoria Fleming, a political newcomer who won a Santa Rosa City Council seat last year, said she would support “any reasonable measure that makes it easier and more accessible for anybody to participate in democracy.”
Fleming, a social worker with a young daughter, said she was advised she could use campaign funds for child care but opted not to do so. With “clear legal direction” that it was permissible, Fleming said she would in a future campaign, noting that the financial opportunity tilts toward female candidates.
“We tend to think of child care as a burden that falls mainly on women, and it usually is,” Fleming said.
Healdsburg Mayor David Hagele, who was elected to the City Council in 2016 and has two young children, concurred — with a kicker.
“I feel traditionally that’s been the case,” he said, adding that he perceives a “cultural shift” with fathers getting more involved in child care. Hagele, who works in commercial real estate finance, said he sees equal numbers of moms and dads dropping their children off at school.