Five Black Women Are Making Political History in 2014

By Glynda Carr and Kimberly Peeler-Allen

In a recent post for the New York Times blog The Upshot, journalist Nate Cohn took a stab at explaining how the browning of Georgia’s voting populace is likely to benefit Democrats in the 2014 election cycle and beyond. Sadly, his analysis focused solely on how liberal white candidates are likely to gain footage as a result of this demographic shift—a significant and surprising oversight given the number of Black women making a bid for Georgia statewide offices this election year.  

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As of last month, Black women candidates have cinched the Democratic primaries and are challenging Republican opponents for five statewide offices. The most prominent of these bids is former State Sen. Connie Stokes’ run for lieutenant governor. Doreen Carter, who is running for secretary of state; Elizabeth Johnson, who is making a bid for insurance commissioner; Valarie Wilson, who has her hat in the ring to become state school superintendent; and Robbin Shipp who is angling to become labor commissioner complete the group.  These five candidates will embark on a bus tour throughout Georgia this month in an effort to connect with voters and garner support for their collective and individual runs.

Should they win, these candidates are poised to have an effect on everything from state spending to voting rights, Medicaid expansion, education, and access to jobs and fair wages. Their bids also could have an impact on the national stage.  Currently, only two Black women hold statewide elected offices, accounting for just 0.6% percent of all state-elected officials nationwide.  But if just two of the Georgia candidates are successful in their bids, they could significantly increase that anemic percentage.  

Regardless of how they fair, by setting a record for the most number of Black women to ever be on a statewide ballot during a single election year, these women have already made 2014 an historic year in politics.  What’s most surprising about their feat, however, is that they have set this record in a state that has been at the forefront of the conservative vanguard for much of this country’s history.  That achievement coupled with the fact that they are running in the face of continued attempts at marginalization from the media (Cohn’s oversight is a clear example) and their opponents speaks volumes to the determination of these women.

Like so many Black women before them, these five candidates know their path to political leadership won’t be easy. It will be filled with potential stumbling blocks and seemingly insurmountable walls that their male and white female counterparts rarely, if ever, encounter. A recent Higher Heights study found, for example, that Black women raise an average of $235,000 less in campaign contributions than their Black male counterparts when running for office, and they often face compounded racial and gender-specific criticisms. Still, they are running for these statewide offices because they are passionate about making their communities better places to live and clearing pathways to opportunity for others.

Given the disturbingly regressive political agenda being embraced by a number of historically conservative communities across the United States, it is hardly trite to consider the significance of these simultaneous candidacies. They are a glimmer of hope at a time when some factions of our country seem determined—and in too many cases are succeeding in their efforts—to reverse the gains we have made on racial, economic and gender equality in this country.  In a recent newspaper interview, Shipp said she believes the group is presenting Georgia with an “opportunity to elect individuals who genuinely care about families, who genuinely care about our children.”  At Higher Heights, we couldn’t agree more.

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