Speaking with Authority (2001)

Outsiders with Insider Know How

Let’s Make an Honest Deal

“Women are usually considered to be more honest than men [candidates].”
– Political Reporter

Embrace the Art of Compromise

Polls show that voters believe women candidates are more honest than their male counterparts. Focus groups also show that voters hold women to a higher ethical standard than men when comparing candidates for public office.

Voters further believe that governing the state requires an ability to maneuver behind the scenes. They have a sense that a good governor can manage her legislature to pass important measures when the time comes. Such maneuvers require, among other things, street smarts and perseverance.

Women are faced with the challenge of maintaining an honest image while proving savvy enough to understand and bring together different points of view and styles.

Move the Agenda Forward

About a third of surveyed voters believed Republican women (35%) and Democratic women (29%) running for governor would be honest. For both parties, only half as many voters believed male candidates to be honest (Republican men, 13%; Democratic men, 15%). Similarly, voters believed male candidates for both parties to be more corrupt and more controlled by special interests than female candidates.

Used skillfully, this moral capital can be a powerful wedge to advance issues and pressure colleagues toward agreement.

“[Men] play the system, both for the greater good and their own benefit. But they play the system. I’ve had people even say to me recently, if you run again you’ve got to learn how to cut deals. I’m just not comfortable making deals.”
– Candidate

When voters considered whether a typical candidate would be willing to cut deals to move his or her policy agenda forward, men of both parties fare better than their female counterparts. Republicans fare better than Democrats, regardless of gender.

Hang on to your Outsider Image

A woman candidate’s outsider status translates well to a “clean government” image. As one candidate reflected in an interview, “…We’re not part of that atmosphere of corruption.”

Arizona’s Jane Dee Hull, a Republican, became governor when her male predecessor was convicted on multiple counts of fraud.

Hull was first elected to state office – as secretary of state – in 1993. Before stepping into the governor’s office in 1997, Hull was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives and chosen by her colleagues to serve as Speaker. This was a reflection of her ability to maneuver well within the state party.

Hull was elected to the governor’s office in her own right in 1998. In fact, Arizonans elected women to all five of its top statewide offices that year, arguably in reaction to the status quo.

For Candidates

  1. Keep your word. This is your most valuable asset and a critical one if you intend to work the powers-that-be to achieve better public policy. Accept party organizational positions like “whip” that demonstrate your ability to move legislation, count votes and persuade your colleagues.
  2. Mediate. Don’t hesitate to put yourself in the middle of a fight if you can be useful. Show off your deal-making skills by taking the lead in announcing the compromise whether it’s a strike, a legislative impasse or a land use negotiation.
  3. Stand your ground. Every politician worth her salt parts company with interest group allies when good public policy requires it. Make a strategic decision to do so privately or publicly considering what such an announcement would say about you. Defining your core values is particularly important for women candidates.
  4. Exact a price. Your ability to find solutions to difficult policy problems depends in part on positive coaxing and, in part, on fear of reprisals. If there is no cost to crossing you, people will. As a result, you will be less effective.
  5. Take issue. Define the differences between your position, judgment or voting record and your opponent’s. Draw a contrast and hold him or her accountable. This builds voter confidence. People will believe you will be able to fight for them if they see you standing up for someone else.