As the state prepares for party primaries, voters may notice there are few women to vote for. That reflects the fact that there are no women serving in the Senate and 17 in the House.
This puts South Carolina at the bottom of all states for women participating in political office.
That’s why Barbara Rackes continues her efforts with the non-partisan project, the Southeastern Institute for Women in Politics, holding workshops for potential candidates and recognizing women in leadership.
We are highly regarded by the existing elected officials in the state and recognized by the political parties. Now, I have to say that the political parties, because we’re nonpartisan, are not exceptionally active. The partisans are active–we have Republican and Democratic women who are very active in the things that we do. But the parties themselves decline to be really strong participants in it.
There is a handful of women running for statewide office, including Nikki Haley for Governor and Eleanor Kitzman for Lt. Governor. Elizabeth Moffly and Kelly Payne are running for Superintendent of Education.
But there are more women interested in running, says Rackes, and they are getting serious about learning the tools of campaigning.
We now have more than 250 people who have gone through our training. I would say that 95 percent of those are women. We are now moving on to advanced training and we’re doing everything from traditional fieldwork training– getting out the votes, going door-to-door, that kind of thing—all the way through Internet, social networking and how to manage blogs.
Rackes says right now the real target of the Southeastern Institute of Women in Politics is the 2012 election ,where women will have had another year to “gain some visibility and some grounding.”
We’ll have both the Senate and all the House seats in South Carolina that are open, so our goal is to triple the number of women that are running for office in 2012.
To help in their efforts, the institute has applied for a grant to have an outreach worker in each congressional district.
Barbara Rackes says that often, women hold themselves back.
We are victims of our own criticism and we’re not smart enough, we’re not rich enough, we’re not good-looking enough, we’re not young enough, not old enough, not something enough. What we have to do is to take women who are actually proven leaders already at the grassroots level and encourage them to take the next step.
She adds that women in leadership also need to reach out to other women more.