Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch says electing more women to the state Legislature would help reduce the partisan divide that has recently gripped Wisconsin.

Speaking during a virtual luncheon along with Emerge Wisconsin Executive Director Erin Forrest, Kleefisch said she sees collaboration as a key skill female candidates bring to the table.

“I think compromise is really, really important and I think if we did have more women at the table, we would get there faster,” she said.

Forrest, whose Emerge Wisconsin organization recruits and trains female Dems to run for public office, said she felt “it would certainly help.”

“It’s hard right now to feel like anybody is able to get anything done, and I don’t think that that’s what the people of Wisconsin want,” she said.

While both expressed optimism that the election in November would produce another surge of women elected to public office, Kleefisch and Forrest had contrasting views on presumptive Dem nominee Joe Biden’s promise to select a woman as his running mate.

Forrest said she didn’t think the move would have an outsized effect on the women vote, noting “the gender gap has been growing every cycle” and now tilts heavily towards Dems. But she added the importance of having a woman on the ticket came more in laying the groundwork for future executive candidates.

“There’s some really clear data that shows that when women run for office, it’s easier for the next woman to run,” Forrest said. “It’s critically important. It’s harder to be what you can’t see.”

But Kleefisch countered that some Republicans see the move as an attempt to play identity politics and “may even be a little insulted by the idea that (Biden) is choosing someone specifically for their package.”

“He’s basically signaling to America that he’s choosing the best of the Democrat women, not just the best of the Democrats, to be vice president of the United States,” she said.

Forrest fired back that “it’s not about packaging, it’s about perspective.”

Kleefisch agreed the importance of gender diversity lies in perspective and joked Forrest should “coach” Biden to express that sentiment.

The pair also highlighted the myriad challenges that female candidates face.

Kleefisch said those deterrents — ranging from financial insecurity to parenting concerns to the effect a negative campaign could have on a family — largely “differs by individual.”

“At every season of life, I think there are a variety of different barriers that you have to talk through and determine whether you have the passion to run through the tape or whether it might be a time to encourage someone else,” she said.

Forrest, meanwhile, highlighted “internal barriers” — differences in how men and women are socialized.

“You’ve heard women won’t apply to a job until they meet 10 of 10 job criteria, men will apply when they get to six — it’s the same for public office,” she said.

Forrest said Emerge Wisconsin tries to counter those challenges by surrounding their candidates with other women who are facing the same hurdles.

“We don’t need a six-month training program to make women qualified to run for public office,” she said. “Women are already fully qualified to run for office.”

Kleefisch added the best way to get involved in politics is by showing up and voicing opinions at local government meetings. 

“If you care that much, then chances are that care will lead to activism and once you are an activist, you have the passion to not just be approached but decide for yourself that you’d like to run for political office,” she said.




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