By Melita Easters
Georgia WIN List Executive Director and Founding Chair
The much-hyped live-stream performance of Hamilton with the show’s original cast gives all of us a fresh reminder: America’s founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence which we celebrate on July 4 for white men, not women or people of color.
Abigail Adams made the case to her husband by letter on March 31, 1776 with an eloquent plea: “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to form a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
John Adams paid no heed to the entreaties of his wife even though because women had enjoyed the right to vote in several colonies prior to 1776, a case could have been made to include women. The “rebellion” Abigail Adams predicted failed to form. When women finally took to the streets to demand the right to vote more than a century later, it took years for Congress to finally pass the 19th Amendment in May and June of 1919. Tennessee became the last of the necessary 36 states to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920.
In fact, our country has been lead by a series of white men, following white men, following white men for every leadership position. In January 2002, Nancy Pelosi broke the “granite ceiling” and reversed 200 years of history when she became the House Whip and attended her first White House meeting as a member of Congressional leadership. It was the first time in the history of our country a woman had EVER been a part of the exclusive circle. BIPOC are still waiting for a similar historic moment.
I interviewed TIME magazine’s national political correspondent Molly Ball about her biography of Speaker Pelosi during for the July 1 Wednesday WIN List webinar. We talked about Speaker Pelosi’s many historic firsts and how she wields power. Spoiler Alert: Molly Ball, based on her conversations with historians and scholars, believes Nancy Pelosi will be remembered as one of the most effective legislators of the past century, holding her own alongside former President Lyndon Baines Johnson for his six-year tenure as Majority Leader of the Senate and Sam Rayburn for his six-year tenure as Speaker of the house.
Ball says Pelosi will be remembered for her ability to pass complex legislation at a time when partisan divides make such accomplishments difficult to achieve. A part of Pelosi’s success is her ability to persuade others and her mastery of the legislative process – or in words from Hamilton, how the game is played.
“… No one really knows how the game is played
The art of the trade
How the sausage gets made
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in
The room where it happens …
No one really knows how the
Parties get to yes
The pieces that are sacrificed in
Ev’ry game of chess…
When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game
But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game”*
*Lin Manuel Miranda from Hamilton
WIN List was founded with the belief greater numbers of Georgia women needed to be elected and re-elected to achieve real power. The idea of putting women in the rooms under Georgia’s Gold Dome where policies are set and compromises crafted prompted the founding mothers of Georgia WIN List to meet for the first time 21 summers ago. Our founders knew Georgia women needed to join together and form a support system for women candidates similar to the long-standing power of the “Good Old Boys” network which then, as now, had a firm hold on state power. The goal was to elect women who would Change the Face of Power in Georgia.
I knew such an organization was needed because straight out of college, I had been a newspaper reporter covering city and county government — first in rural south Georgia and then in DeKalb County during the era of the legendary Manuel Maloof. I took my reporter’s notebook to “rooms” where men of both races held ALL the power because women were only beginning to be elected in very small numbers. As a producer of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s The Lawmakers during most of the 1980’s, I observed firsthand what a rarity women legislators were – 11 percent or lower for the entire decade. By the time WIN List founders began meeting in my living room in 1999, the number of women had slowly climbed to 18.6 percent and Georgia ranked 32nd in the nation for the percentage of its women legislators, according to the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University.
After 20 years of focused energy to ELECT Women, the Georgia General Assembly now has 30.5 percent women and ranks 23rd in the nation. The House Democratic caucus is 56 percent women and the Senate Democratic caucus is 62 percent women. Democratic women outnumber their Republican colleagues 3.2 to one. Georgia WIN List has helped elect more than 70 women, 44 of whom currently serve. WIN List endorsed the woman who would become the first lesbian legislator in the southeast 20 years ago and we have been proud to endorse many other women who were the first to represent their diverse group. Additionally, Georgia has the highest number of Black women legislators – 36 – for any state in the nation and the percentage as a total of legislators is 15.3, also the highest in the nation.
In October 2018, I was fortunate to see Hamilton on Broadway and was struck by the lyrics above from the song, The Rooms Where It Happens. The words of the song stayed and re-played in my head for weeks because at the time, WIN List had endorsed a record-setting 36 women for statewide office or Senate and House seats. While none of our five endorsed statewide women candidates won in November, a record-setting number — nine — FLIPped seats. As a result, the Cobb, Fulton, and Gwinnett county legislative delegations FLIPped from Republican to Democratic control for the first time in decades.
All of the WIN List team has enjoyed watching the WINning women elected in 2018 and five others elected during 2017 special elections blossom as eloquent advocates for reproductive freedom and effective proponents for reducing Georgia’s highest in the nation maternal mortality rate, among other issues. They are an outstanding group of leaders and demonstrate great promise for many achievements in the coming years.
Even though sunshine laws grant public access to legislative committee meetings, there is still a great deal about the making of legislation – the sausage if you will – which occurs in smaller settings away from the public eye amongst the leaders who chair committees. These conversations happen during restaurant meals or hallway conversations just as the musical portrays in the days of our founding fathers.
Currently, Georgia’s GOP is overwhelmingly white and predominately male – stale, pale and male as I like to say. Our WIN List endorsed women are diverse in every way – color, sexual orientation, religion, age and educational background. We have two endorsed legislators who are immigrants and several others who are the daughters of immigrants. It is past time to finish the job of turning Georgia Blue. 2020 is the year we can FLIP the House and greatly reduce the GOP majority in the Senate. In a Democratic House, women will take their rightful place to chair of important committees. Women would be at the center of conversations focused on “getting to yes.”
Georgia Republicans passed a 2020-21 budget which cut ONE BILLION dollars from education during the recent legislative session. Rather than consider other options for revenue, they also shredded Georgia’s social and health services safety net even as COVID-19 case rates continued to skyrocket. By January 2021, restorative repair will be needed in the state budget and review of policies around healthcare, social services and social justice is critically necessary. Imagine what it will be like to have women guiding these necessary discussions to set the priorities which establish the kind of Georgia we leave to our children and grandchildren.
Speaking of children and grandchildren, when Senator Sally Harrell first served as state representative from 1999 to 2005, she was one of two female legislators with small children. After her election in 2018, she became one of eight WIN List endorsed legislators with children younger than 18. Amongst the 54 endorsed candidates for 2020, an additional 20 have children in this age group and between these 28 moms, there are a total of 55 children. Imagine the impact of electing all these highly motivated moms to the Georgia General Assembly! Finally, we would see family-friendly policies which would create a much brighter future for Georgia’s next generation. And with moms in charge, funding to educate our state’s future leaders WILL be a priority!
When our endorsed women WIN in November, the 2021 session will see Democrats in charge of Georgia’s legislative process. But, WIN List will only be able to help elect women in record-setting numbers if we raise money in record-setting sums! Please give generously today!
And, if you want to know more about the 2020 Legislative Session, register for this Wednesday’s WIN List Webinar when WINning women Senators Jen Jordan and Tonya Anderson and Representatives Dr. Jasmine Clark and Beth Moore join us to review “What Happened Under the Dome?” We will discuss the final days of the 2020 legislative session, particularly the budget and passage of the hate crimes bill as well as other measures which failed to pass.