Size doesn’t matter in Rhode Island politics

Last week State Treasurer Gina Raimondo ended months of speculation by announcing her candidacy for governor. I have to admit that I am almost as excited about this race as I am about the opening of the 2014 MLB season. As the mother of two girls and someone who has spent more than twenty years working in the male-dominated political world, the truth is that Rhode Island girls need to see more women competing against men for top jobs in public life and in the business world. Rhode Island has a miserable record of electing women to statewide and federal offices. Like David Hasselhoff, we peaked in the 80s and early 90s with Arlene Violet, Susan Farmer, Nancy Mayer, Barbara Leonard, Kathleen Connell and Claudine Schneider, the only female federal elected official in Rhode Island’s history.

Just a few states away, New Hampshire has managed to have an all-woman Washington delegation while Governor Maggie Hassan leads at home. Our girls shouldn’t have to look to other states and other capitols for role models, but they do and it’s because qualified women just don’t run here. This race provides us with the opportunity to show our girls that a woman can compete for a top job.

Raimondo announced by video, promising a campaign kickoff in January and giving the Rhode Island press corps the opportunity to put together this pre-holiday story from the cozy confines of their own offices. I am sure that several of them had even written their pieces long before the embargoed announcement since it was almost certain that Raimondo would run.

So as I read through the coverage of the announcement, I was stunned to see a print piece by Kathy Gregg, one of state’s leading political reporters, noting that the Treasurer is five-foot-three and thought to be “scrappy.” Really? Are the dimensions of her body relevant to the job? I didn’t remember reading anything about Ken Block’s hairline, Allan Fung’s shoe size or Angel Taveras’ weight, so I looked back at the pieces that ran after their announcements, and sure enough, no discussion of the candidates’ proportions – and no terrier-like adjectives. So while the male candidates enter the race with a discussion of their bios and coverage of their announcements, Raimondo gets the additional labels of being short and “scrappy” – a not-so-subtle dig from the reporter. It’s no wonder women don’t want to run in this state – stories might read something like, “Governor Jane Doe, delivering her state of the state this evening in a blue pant suit that makes it appear as though she has gained a few pounds, emphasized that attracting more jobs remains the focus of her administration.”

For the most part our press corps has shown remarkable restraint during the Chafee administration and adjectives like “vacant” and “nonsensical” have barely made it into the lexicon. I hope they will redouble their efforts to keep the language neutral during the next eleven months – these are serious times for our state and no matter what we’re going to get a governor who looks different than what has come before – young, short, bald, female, thin, Asian, Latino – whatever he or she looks like is just not relevant. Let’s save the descriptive language for sports where size matters (just ask short and scrappy Dustin Pedroia) and leave it out of our politics.

Cara Cromwell is a public affairs consultant with more than twenty years experience managing issues campaigns for corporations, non-profits, associations, coalitions and candidates on both sides of the aisle. Visit her blog, Straight Up The Middle, at http://straightupthemiddle.blogspot.com/ and follow her on Twitter @cmcromwell.

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