HARTFORD, CT — The “shock of the 2016 election” and what they see as policy failures by the General Assembly inspired a progressive women’s advocacy group to get organized.
Politica CT, the nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)4 organization was co-founded by Jamie Mills, an attorney, and Sen. Beth Bye of West Hartford.
At a news conference outside the state Capitol on Monday, the two women said they felt a real sense of urgency to take action and have been working to create the organization over the past six months.
Politica CT will do issue advocacy work and recruit progressive women to run in “targeted elections.” Women make up more than half the state population, but they occupy less than 30 percent of the 187 General Assembly seats.
“We also are going to be actively seeking women leaders to run for state House and Senate seats across the state next year,” Mills said. “Particularly in those races that will make a significant difference in the balance of power here in Hartford.”
Connecticut is considered a battleground state when it comes to the legislative split between the political parties.
In the Senate, the Democrats have seen their majority slip from 24-12 after the 2008 election to an 18-18 tie. House Democrats, meanwhile, held a 114-37 margin after the 2008 election, and have seen that dwindle to 79-72.
Mills said they have no doubt that if there were more women in the General Assembly they would already have a paid Family and Medical Leave Act and a pay equity bill.
Bye said one of the common themes is, “if only we had half women in office. If only we could elect people who were more progressive and believe there should be an equality in the power dynamic up here.”
She said the most frustrating thing for her was the inability to get paid Family and Medical Leave over the finish line.
“It wasn’t that we couldn’t pass it. It was we couldn’t get it put up on the board to vote on because I would bet money that if we could have gotten that put up on the board it would have passed,” Bye said.
It was the third year they had tried to advance the bill.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who is not running for re-election in 2018, said there’s been a lot of talk about not moving forward, but what she’s really concerned about is “slipping back.”
Wyman said people are finally getting engaged, but if that doesn’t happen then everything she’s done for 40 years “will slip away from us.”
Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, said that when women get involved in politics they get to have conversations about things that typically aren’t addressed when the process is dominated by men.
She said the imbalance in representation gets reflected in the policies they see getting out of the General Assembly. Porter spoke about the defeat of her pay equity bill earlier this year.
Celinda Lake, president of the Democratic polling firm Lake Research Partners, said the good news is that all of the policies women support, such as paid Family and Medical Leave and pay equity, are “more popular than the politicians that oppose them.”
She said Connecticut used to rank 8th for the number of women politicians. But it has since fallen to 19th.
Also there are a whole lot of missing women voters in Connecticut. She said right now — if nothing else happened — almost 148,000 unmarried women who showed up in 2016 are not planning to show up in 2018.
But the right issues and the right candidates will be able to bring those voters out, she added.
Lake was one of the featured guests at the $250-per-person fundraiser Poltica CT held Monday at the home of Attorney General George Jepsen.
Any of the money raised by the organization will be used for “issue advocacy” or communication to members, Bye said.
As a 501(c)4 organization the group won’t be able to give any money directly to candidates.
The Internal Revenue Service tax status that the group choose also exempts the organization from having to disclose its donors.
Asked whether it was hypocritical of a progressive organization to form with a tax status that makes it a “dark money” group, Bye said they never thought about it in those terms.
“We really set up this way as a communication strategy,” Bye said. “We did not want to get involved with giving money to candidates.”
Mills said the goal is to raise enough money to hire an organizer who can work with their membership, and to educate members about advocacy work.