Massachusetts’s leading ladies call for female candidates

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CHESTNUT HILL – Some of Massachusetts’s top Democratic and Republican women gathered Friday at Boston College Law School to discuss barriers to women in politics, strongly agreeing across party lines that more women need to run for political office.

U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Natick), former Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift (R) and former Lt. Governors Kerry Healey (R) and Evelyn Murphy (D) all participated in the forum on women in politics sponsored by B.C.’s Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy.

“More women need to run,” Swift said during the forum, adding that women should support their peers as candidates.

According to the Center for Women in American Politics, Massachusetts is currently ranked 21st among the nation’s state legislatures in terms of the number of female legislators. At the beginning of 2015, the Center calculated that approximately 24 percent of all legislators nationwide are women. The Massachusetts legislature is 25.5 percent female, consistent with the national average.

But a 2011 study by the American University Center for Women in Politics indicates that women are less interested than men in seeking elective office. Swift suggested that many women never run because they are never asked to run, and she called on women in the audience to do so and to encourage friends. Other panelists agreed.

“Ask someone else to run,” Clark said.

Despite their differing political perspectives, all of the panelists had harsh words for the media, condemning political coverage that focuses too much on a female candidate’s appearance or on the sensational aspect of a woman’s candidacy.

Last month, the female hosts of ABC’s“The View” referred to Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina’s face as “demented,” just weeks after GOP rival Donald Trump cited the former Hewlett-Packard CEO’s appearance as a reason not to support her candidacy.

Swift pointed to the media’s excessive attention to her “baby bump” during her campaign for Lt. Gov. in 1998, giving birth only weeks before election day.

But Healey noted that many women rise in the polls when they point out sexism by their opponents and publicly push back.

Healey also suggested that Democratic women often have an easier time because their party values “having women’s voices at the table, completely apart from the ideological piece,” she said, while Republicans prioritize a candidate who agrees with them ideologically.

“Republican voters have no problem voting for women,” she said. But “they’re very agnostic about who carries their message …For Democratic donors, those voters are actually willing to give to women because they are women.”

Swift added that Democrats devote significant resources and infrastructure to protecting their female candidates, but that the Republican party does not.

“There just doesn’t exist that institutional support for Republican women,” she said.

Healey said that project was her next goal – to create the infrastructure for women on the right.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis