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A disturbing trend among female candidates

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend at the political events I’ve been attending. Female candidates are assuming that we know the reasons we should elect women to office.

On March 18, about a hundred women and their carefully chosen female candidates converged for a revealing evening at the Premiere 2010 California Women Candidate Forum produced by Run Women Run and California List.

California List is a network focused on electing pro-choice Democratic women to state government. Run Women Run endorses Democratic and Republican pro-choice women candidates for offices in San Diego County. Both seek qualified candidates to win offices with their financial support, training and exposure.

To win the argument that reproductive control should be a safe option for women you must prepare an arsenal of believable facts and stand ready for debate. You can’t declare reproductive choice as a right, and expect folks to follow along. And, we can’t be sloppy in our arguments that electing women to office is right without also proving it.

We’re in the instant information age, yet verifiable information is hard to discern and consumers of information are increasingly skeptical. There’s an intellectual unrest in American voters today, as fewer of us have faith in our government and the details we’re being fed. It’s not a judgment, it’s a reality. To win a race, you have to deal with reality.

That’s why the California Women Candidate Forum was so revealing to me. Most of the candidates offered inspiring stories about their track records and personal reasons they are running for office. That was good. The moderator and founder of California List Bettina Duval, was smart to introduce each candidate with a job description of the office they are running for. She also read bios, so we could match the job needs with the candidate’s skills. That too, was good.

Several of the candidates outlined their signature strengths, the things women and mothers generally find important. Forum guests Toni Atkins, Pearl Quinones and Mary Salas emphasized access to education. Mary Salas, Crystal Crawford, and Toni Atkins highlighted their work for affordable health care. Janice Hahn and Kamala Harris play big roles in public safety. All agreed on the need for economic prosperity and nodded yes when Crawford said she “wants to put the shine back on our golden state.”

Crawford made a valid point when she claimed that analysts believe women must attain a third of the Assembly seats in order to effectively shift State legislation. But, no one defined how women would shift the dynamic. All the candidates agreed that women would best serve the state. But no one defined why.

Highlighted candidate forum guests:

Janice Hahn: Democrat Running for Calif. Lieutenant Governor

Mary Salas: Democrat Running for State Senate District 40, for San Diego and parts of Riverside County.

Kamala Harris: Democrat Running for Attorney General (State Executive Branch).

Crystal Crawford: Democrat Running for State Assembly District 74, including Carlsbad and Del Mar.

Toni Atkins: Democrat Running for State Assembly District 76, for San Diego.

Pearl Quinones: Democrat Running for State Assembly District 79, from the Mexican border to Barrio Logan.

Although many of the forum candidates espoused the need for women in office to get the State and local governments in alignment with community needs, not one of them spelled out how a woman, rather than a man, would be better suited to do that.

We, as an audience of a hundred, were asked to tell a hundred other people why we need these women in office. Although we could tell, by the information disseminated, why each candidate was qualified as an individual, we weren’t given facts to convince anyone why women are important candidates as women.

At a prior Run Women Run event, guest author Laura Liswood supported the claim that women legislate more inclusively than men do. She conducted investigative interviews of women leaders across the globe for her book, Women World Leaders, which discloses how women lead advancements in education, health care and sustainable businesses. The women Heads of State that Liswood interviewed were more likely to be comprehensive in their policy making and extremely likely to build coalitions within their governments.

The evidence that Liswood provides is believable. It gives us reason to think that helping women lead helps us all achieve. In a time when global economies are bound in struggle, and our local communities are suffering from budget cuts and lost jobs, certainly it would help to know that the simple act of choosing female candidates over equally qualified male candidates would aid all our citizens in getting ahead. Yet, this message isn’t often delivered and it was entirely missing from the Candidates Forum.Even websites were an overlooked opportunity of the Candidates Forum. Only a few women gave their web addresses, and very few had printed material on-hand with websites or qualities listed.

The strained economy and fact that women tend to run for office with fewer dollars than men, largely because we make less, also points to the need of providing clear, undeniable facts on why electing women matters.

Many of the candidates traveled far to attend the forum, some from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Time is of the essence when traveling for elected races. San Diego is a huge county and California is an enormous state. There are a lot of citizens to convince and not a lot of opportunities to reach them. I think every statement a female candidate makes should come back to the points of what makes her a qualified candidate and what makes her special as a woman. I think every visit a candidate makes with our voters should help that voter educate others to why a woman is better qualified to lead.

Provable trends like those discovered by Liswood could convince the skeptics to vote for skilled women over equally skilled men, but those facts need to be routinely given, not assumed.

Although women vote in larger numbers than men, we can’t assume they know why voting for a woman can make a difference, nor can we assume they will vote for women. Maybe the female candidates and leaders of California need a conference to clarify strategies to convince voters that electing qualified women matters. We need a defined agenda of where we want to go, as women leaders, and proof that we’re better suited in taking us there.

Tryce Czyczynska is the co-founder of 51%: A Women’s Place Is In Politics and host of “Coffee & Conversation with Cool Women.” She is an SDNN contributor. Follow her on Twitter.