By A’shanti F. Gholar and Liuba Grechen Shirley
Our democracy is stronger when it reflects our communities. Mothers with young children are an important voice in the halls of government, from the school board where they advocate for children in their district to Congress where they know the challenges that families face as they juggle work and life. However, there are many structural barriers that prevent women with young children from successfully running for office, specifically the cost of child care.
Let’s face the facts: campaigning can be costly. Depending on what office you are running for, it may be hard to maintain a full-time job or arrange for child care before every event or overnight stop on the trail. There is a lack of options for the single mom who works two jobs or for the mom whose partner also works full-time. Running for office is a civic duty that everyone in our country should be able to do. We must make campaigning and running for office accessible to moms of young children.
Today, moms of young children only make up 5% of Congress and that’s the highest it has ever been. They even formed the first-ever Moms in the House caucus to support each other, share advice and navigate an institution that was not built with them in mind. One of its founding members is Rep. Katie Porter, who represents California’s 45th District and is the only single mom in the U.S. House. She is currently advocating for and pushing policies that would make it easier for more single parents to run for office and for campaign funds to be used for other essential needs like health care. As Porter put it during her primary in 2018, “Half of all the moms in America are single moms, and there should be more of us in Congress.” Being a mom — single, step, biological, adoptive, foster — should not be a disqualifying factor for political candidacy.
One of the critical ways that we can clear the path for moms is allowing candidates to use campaign funds for child care at every level. Currently, candidates running at the federal level are able to do this and 46 federal candidates have used campaign funds for childcare since it was permitted in 2018, but down-ballot this is not the case and it affects who is able to run. In many of the 17 states that do allow it, women candidates stepped up and took action by requesting that their state ethics commissions change the rule.
Women like Jenn Gray, who led the charge in Alabama, or Morgan Lamandre in Louisiana who was successful in her fight to change the rule after an ethics board member berated her and said her desire to run for office was a “misplaced priority.” Through their actions, and that of many other bold women across the country, regulators and policymakers are beginning to rightfully recognize that child care is critical for women candidates with young children. Vote Mama is also working to pass legislation to allow campaign funds for childcare in all 50 states.
There’s already evidence that these kinds of changes are creating opportunities for more women candidates. So far this year, we have seen women step up and run bold campaigns where having young children is a central part of who they are as candidates. In Texas, there’s Candace Valenzuela, a mom of two children under age 4 who is running to flip Texas’ 24th congressional district. If she’s elected in November, she would make history by becoming the first Afro-Latina to serve in Washington. At the state level, there’s Shanna Danielson, a gun safety advocate who is the mother of a young son and is running for a seat in the Pennsylvania State Senate. Their candidacies are encouraging to other moms who may not have considered running for office but can now look to them as examples of success.
At both Emerge and Vote Mama, through our unique approaches, we are working to create a more inclusive democracy. Moms of young children bring a perspective that is too often missing from policymaking discussions about critical issues that affect us all like education and health care. Our communities count on their political leaders to understand their experience and improve their lives and by electing moms, we can ensure that happens.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, we want the moms in our lives to recognize that they are more than qualified to take on the mantle of political leadership. We also call on policymakers and regulators in states to realize the important role they play in breaking down barriers that keep women and young people from pursuing office. It’s what our communities deserve.