What inspires women to run for public office?

League of Women Voters

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the League of Women Voters of Collin County at a luncheon Saturday, March 19 honored six outstanding women who have run for office. Before the women spoke about what motivated them to seek public office, former State Senator Florence Shapiro gave a few remarks emphasizing the importance of voting. “We can all agree that this election cycle has taught all of us the importance of voting,” she said. “Special interests take control when you don’t vote. This is when I say, Amen?” The audience laughed. “No truer words were ever spoken. Democracy only works when we vote.”

Shapiro went on to talk about the importance of having women in public office. She joined the Plano City Council in 1979—her and five men—and served six terms up to 1990. She was subsequently elected Mayor of Plano for two years and in 1992 joined the Texas Senate. This is where she made history. In 2005, she was elected President pro tempore of the State Senate, becoming second in the gubernatorial line of succession behind the Lieutenant Governor, and she was the first senator from Collin County to serve in that position in more than 40 years.

Naturally, her audience was attentive.

“Please, please encourage more women to run for public office,” said Shapiro. “Women have a different perspective. They have different ideas. In the past, we’ve had a lot of female elected officials,” she reveals. “One year, 1985 I believe, we had a bumper sticker that said, ‘Texas: Where men are men and women are mayors.’ Of the 10 largest cities in Texas, seven had female mayors. We don’t have that anymore. We’ve got to get back to the days of old. That sounds crazy doesn’t it?”

Yes, it does!

So, what inspires women to run for public office? Here’s an overview of why the six women that were honored at the luncheon ran for office.

Missy BenderMissy Bender, PISD Board of Trustees
You may know her from the Junior League of Collin County, the Plano Metro Rotary Club, or the Plano ISD Education Foundation, among many other organizations she serves. Missy Bender is serving her 10th year on the Plano ISD Board of Trustees.

She was born in Joplin, Missouri, and moved to Plano in 1975 where she became part of the first graduating class of Plano East High School. Missy received a bachelor’s in marketing from SMU. She started her career at Champion International and then IBM in management consulting.

When she and husband Doug moved to Plano and had their daughter, who is now a junior at Plano West, Missy volunteered in the community. She was a mom “trying to find her place” and “identity.” Her daughter, then, was in kindergarten, so Missy ran for the school board. She put together a consulting project for herself  interviewing 60 people in the community and developed her platform. Her first campaign was $15,000–20,000 and she raised just over half of that. “You need money to win; that’s just my personal experience.”

She added, “If you don’t have the support from your family, don’t run. It’s way too hard and way too hurtful. There were lots of nights when I would cry,” she paused, “…and my daughter would cry because she would see what people would say about me and would want me to fight back. So you have to surround yourself with people who will lift you up.”

Missy recognized her husband Doug in the audience and emphasized the importance of having a partner by your side that you can deeply trust.

 

Gilda GarzaGilda Garza, McKinney City Council
Gilda Garza was born and reared in McKinney. After graduating from McKinney High School, knowing that her parents could not afford to send her to college, she paid for her education at National Training Institute of Technology and Business College in South Dallas studying Computer Automation. She also attended Collin College majoring in Business Management.

In 2000, Gilda was elected to the McKinney City Council, the first Hispanic female to be elected to city government, and was re-elected twice, the maximum terms allowed. She ran simply because her District needed representation. She served District 1, which she many felt had been neglected, specifically its infrastructure. She’ll never forget when a council member drove her around her district, one street after another, and together, they prioritized which street needed the most work. She also recalled standing up for her district when council proposed a new community pool. Thanks to her, the children on the east side of McKinney got their pool.

Gilda talked about how important it is to have a support group. “When you have a goal in public office, you don’t do it alone. …One of my advisers once said, ‘Gilda, all you do is shake hands and kiss those babies. Everything else, leave to your steering committee.'” The audience laughed.

Gilda has worked in administration the past 19 years for the North Texas Job Corps, a Department of Labor training program, and looks forward to retiring in April 2016.

 

Tony HoltTonya Holt, Democratic Candidate for 5th District Court of Appeals
In 2012, Tonya Holt ran for Justice for the Fifth District Court of Appeals. “The motivation for me to run was I was laid off from a corporate job in 2011. On a Monday morning, I got a phone call, ‘Hi, Tonya Holt, this is so-and-so from the Democratic Party. We’d like to encourage you to run for public office.’ I looked at the phone and thought it was a joke! But I went to the meeting and learned that they wanted more women from Collin County to run.”

“My best friend encouraged me. ‘You can do it! …besides, you might find your husband!'” The audience laughed. “She gave me the [motivation] to go, and I did, but I didn’t find a husband.”

“I worked hard. But that’s what I said I was going to do from the beginning: ‘If I’m going to put my name out there, I’m going to put all my effort out there.’ I worked six counties. No one said I would win, but I know I worked hard, so I have nothing to be ashamed about. I’m thankful I had the opportunity.”

Tonya is a native of Paris, Texas, and a current resident of Plano. An award-winning attorney, she received a BA from Texas A&M University and a JD from Texas Southern University, Thurgood Marshall School of Law. She has enjoyed a diverse 20-year legal career, having worked as a civil rights defense attorney, a federal trial attorney, owner of her own law firm, and senior corporate counsel for an internationally owned corporation. Her accolades include awards for corporate counsel of the year, most trials won, and champion of diversity.

 

Brooke LopezBrooke Lopez, City of Wylie, Public Arts Advisory Board
“For those of you who are wondering, I’m 20 years old,” said Brook Lopez as she approached the podium.

The audience was astounded.

“I ran for Wylie City Council when I was 18. I also registered to vote that year.”

Brooke is currently the youngest appointed official for Wylie as an officer on the Public Arts Advisory Board. Her passion is environmental conservation and her platform became saving Lake Levon as Wylie’s number one water resource.

“Logistically, my entire campaign was funded through an array of small donations from individuals as I took to my expansive social network asking for support. Before I give you the number, it’s quite small, but Wylie City Council is small—well, it’s growing!” Brook continued, “I raised over $1,000 from donors across the state. As for organizational support, only my university [University of Texas at Dallas] endorsed my campaign. Everyone was fearful endorsing a young candidate, especially a minority from an area that is predominately run by white males.”

Brooke went on to explain that even among the excitement of running a campaign, there were challenges: Her materials were destroyed, her family was harassed and her confidence was weakened. If she had any insight regarding her experience as a young women in politics, it’s that the truth isn’t always black and white. “I hope to one day run for office again, but I will now enter cautiously and guarded,” she said.

Born in San Antonio, Brooke graduated from Wylie East High School with honors in 2014. She’s majoring in Public Affairs with a minor in Geography at UT Dallas and is participating in the Pre-Law program. She is an active participant in the UT Dallas Student Government, Academic Excellence Scholarship mentorship, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, John Marshall Pre-Law Society, VP of Philanthropy for UT Dallas Delta Zeta sorority, Dallas ISD Literacy Program, and she is the Undergraduate Public Affairs Student Representative.

 

Anne McCauslandAnne McCausland, Frisco ISD Board of Trustees, President
Anne McCauseland was born in Dallas and grew up in Grapevine. Her mom was a teacher for Dallas ISD, but Anne never felt a calling to become a teacher. “I wanted to support schools though and and help make a teacher’s job easier,” she told the audience.

Anne and her husband Jim moved to Frisco in 1992 and have two children, Jameson and Monica. She became involved in PTA in 2001, when her son Jameson started kindergarten. “I found I had a strong passion for supporting the education of our students, and I wanted to be a resource for my PTA constituents.”

She served as president of the Frisco Council of PTAs from 2009–2011 before being elected to the board of trustees. “In late 2010, a friend told me she would not be seeking re-election and asked that I would consider running for her seat. I spoke to my husband and after some prayer, I decided to run. I filed on the first day, in the first hour, and I was unopposed during the filing period until the very last day, in the last hour,” she emphasized.

“I sent out emails and put my signs up and about a week after filing closed, I got a call from my opponent saying that he was no longer planning to run and that he was going to endorse me, however it was too late to get his name off the ballet.”

So, after weeks of attending forums and meeting constituents, I started to raise funds. All in all, my campaign was about $3,500. I told my friends, ‘No amount is too small. Every amount makes a difference.’ I was fortunate to have a lot of friends who believed in me and helped me along the way. It truly takes a lot of volunteers to have a successful campaign. Never, never be afraid to ask for volunteers,” Anne advised.

Anne won her seat with 82 percent of the vote.

“Going to different training sessions, there was one that stuck with me. The title was ‘Were you elected to govern or do you govern to get elected?’ I decided that I wanted to be a person who was elected to govern. That’s what I always try to remember…so that I can make the best decisions for all 53,000 Frisco ISD students.”

 

Cheryl WilliamsCheryl Williams, Collin County Commissioner
Cheryl Williams was born into an entrepreneurial family in Arizona. After graduating high school, she attended SMU in Dallas, where she earned a BBA in Finance and Economics.

“We moved to east Plano in 1989 and during a heavy ran, our backyard and neighbors’ yards flooded. Our alleys were not paved and we didn’t have any drainage, and I thought, ‘Why is this the only part of the city where we don’t have good infrastructure?’ …What I didn’t realized, I was tapping into this feeling from east Plano that that part of the city was being neglected in many ways. So my neighbors and I made a big push to get the alleys paved.”

That was only the beginning of Cheryl’s community involvement. Eventually, she got a call from a council member that the mayor was wondering if she would be interested in serving on the community relations commission. “I found it a little surprising because I’m not sure the mayor was always happy with me,” she said, “nevertheless, I served on the community relations commission for several years.”

At the same time, there was a proposal for Plano to have four districts that required somebody to live in each district, and nobody from east Plano was on city council. So, somebody was going to have to roll off their seat so that a representative from the east side could step up. It would be determined by a draw. “I was at that meeting, of course, and the mayor picks me out of the audience to come draw this number. It was John Longstreet, whom I love, but he could not run that year.”

“I had no interest in running for council,” Cheryl admitted. “My husband and I were still trying to have a baby. So I waited and as other people started to file, they hadn’t been involved in any meetings or any of the current discussions. So I went ahead and filed.”

Her challenges along the way? “Asking for money was the hardest thing I had to do but just about everybody in my neighborhood gave me some money.”

Another issue…”A respected former council member told me, ‘If you’re going to run for office and win, you really should cut your hair, wear your dresses longer, and you should wear more sensible shoes.'”

There was a collective gasp from the audience.

Chery served three “very rewarding” terms on the Plano City Council, including the position of Mayor Pro Tem.

And because of her city council experience—and because she never cut her hair—when Cheryl ran for Collin County Commissioner, people recognized her. “When I walked through the neighborhoods of east Plano, I got an incredible reception. Between myself and my husband, we walked every day [during the county commissioner campaign] and hit 4,000 houses. Touching that many people, personally, was key.” But, she concluded, “Never walk during a Cowboy game. You will lose votes!”

About the League of Women Voters
The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. The League does not support or oppose any political party or candidate. For more information, visit LWVCollin.org.

To celebrate Women’s History Month, the national league put together a slideshow reflecting 96 years of their history. Check it out here!