Vote, Eagle County women
EAGLE COUNTY ” Donna Spinelli can’t remember whom she voted for in the last Eagle County commissioner race, but now, the head of the Eagle County Republican Women said she’s definitely paying attention.
She never paid attention to local politics until about a year ago, when she was registered to vote as an independent, she said.
“I was not that aware of the issues and what the candidate’s platforms were,” she said.
The change came when she heard about the public votes for a sales tax to fund early childhood development programs, and the second vote for home rule government.
Although voters turned down the sales tax ballot, a down-sized version of the program was still funded from county funds. The home rule ballot had been voted down already in a previous election.
“I just felt like the commissioners weren’t being representatives of the people’s wishes,” she said. “Now I know everyone’s position on everything. What’s cool about Eagle County is that you can make such a huge difference by becoming active.”
A group of women from the county and state are hoping that more women will follow Spinelli’s example and get involved in policy making, whether at a local or national level.
The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women and girls achieve economic self-sufficiency, brought a group of women who are leaders in politics, nonprofit work and advocacy to speak with local women about the importance of being involved in policy making.
“I can’t stress how important it is for women to get involved,” said Women’s Foundation President and CEO Gretchen McComb. “You need to know how to vote, that you understand the candidates and where they stand on women’s issues, and what issues affect women.”
The Women’s Foundation focuses on grant making and influencing legislation, but there are plenty of other ways for women to make their voice heard, said Pamela Smith, one of the foundation’s local members.
Start with voting in the presidential elections, she said.
Edwards resident Lauren Beigler, 19, said she hasn’t voted in the past because she felt she didn’t know enough about the candidates and issues, but she plans to vote in this presidential election.
She said a college course on women and politics encouraged her to be a voter.
“It’s an honor to be able to vote,” she said. “You can’t pass that up as a citizen.”
And while it’s important to vote, she said it can feel like your vote doesn’t make a difference. However, if everyone said that and didn’t vote, there would be a difference in the outcome, she admitted.
And choosing not to vote is exactly what many women are doing ” according to the Women’s Foundation, 22 million women did not vote in the last presidential election.
In Colorado, more than 250,000 single women are not even registered to vote, according to the foundation.
Getting involved in small ways, such as writing letters to the editor, calling a state legislator, or attending a meeting can make a difference, Smith said.
Edwards resident Amie Nelson said that was the idea when she got some mothers together to form a committee for healthier food in Eagle County schools.
“A lot of people gripe about it, but we’ve come together and written new policies (for school lunches and snacks),” she said.
The child-care shortage in the area is another problem local mothers can help solve, she said.
Not only are there not enough spots in day cares, but child care is not affordable, meaning many women who want to work end up giving up their jobs, Nelson said.
“Mothers wanting these things need to come together and show up at city council meetings,” she said. “It has to be not sitting around and talking about it, but asking, ‘What are we going to do about it?'”
County Commissioner Sara Fisher and former state legislator Polly Baca both encouraged the women at the foundation’s forum to consider running for office.
Women face more barriers than some might think in running for office, said Faith Winter, field director for the White House Project, which trains women to run for public office. Women still only make up less than 17 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives and 16 percent of the Senate, she said.
When women run for office, they have fewer mentors who have gone before them, and the media often will focus on nonpolicy issues, such as who you’re married to, Winter said.
“Our culture sees us as leading ladies, not women leaders,” she said.
While there is obviously work to do in getting women involved in policy making, Fisher said she has seen more women represented in her time as commissioner.
“I’m seeing changing numbers in our community. There are more and more women present at the various meetings I attend around the state,” she said. “Women must be at the table.”
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.