Speaker encourages aspiring politicians

by Alison Schmauch | 10/16/00 5:00am

Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend told Dartmouth students Friday that women should seek leadership roles, be it on a college campus or in a national arena.

Townsend, at Dartmouth as part of a campaign swing through New Hampshire, talked about her experiences as a female holding political office and about ways in which young women can become involved in politics.

According to Townsend, while the number of women running for political offices has increased in recent years, much of the voting public still has difficulty electing women to executive positions.

She cited the fact that while there are nine women currently serving in the Senate, and more than 50 in the House, only three women currently serve as governors.

She said that while ambitious men are popularly perceived as strong and talented, U.S. culture still has difficulty viewing ambitious women in a similar light.

Yet, she added, that while many people do not think women can successful manage organizations, today businesses owned by women employ more people than all Fortune 500 businesses combined.

Townsend said women head businesses as unusual and seemingly masculine as the World Wrestling Federation.

Townsend offered extensive advice to young women interested in potentially running for office.

According to Townsend, women tend to be more apprehensive about running for elective office than do men with identical experiences or backgrounds.

She said that young women ought to find ways to build up their confidence.

For instance, according to Townsend, all young women at Dartmouth ought to try to serve in at least one leadership position so as to gain experience.

While not all young women will find that they love politics as she does, Townsend nonetheless believes that holding leadership roles as college students prepares young women to lead in many fields besides government, such as business or academia.

Townsend said that participation in sports, too, accustoms young women to persist in spite of discouraging losses, a skill which will prove useful for a future politician.

Townsend added that women interested in running for office ought to search for friends who can support them during their campaigns.

According to Townsend, mentors, too, can be very helpful to young women interested in careers in politics, however she acknowledged the scarcity of good role models for young women interested in political careers.

Nonetheless, to remind herself of the positive contributions women can make in the political arena, she said she prominently displays pictures of Golda Meir and Joan of Arc in her office.

Townsend said that women can bring particular strengths to politics, citing surveys that indicate people believe that female politicians are more trustworthy than males.

According to the studies Townsend mentioned, Republican women, because they are fiscally conservative and yet still appear to care about people's needs, can be particularly attractive to voters.

Townsend, the daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, also discussed how her experiences as a member of a prominent political family have shaped her beliefs as a politician.

For instance, as a child, she was quizzed nightly at the dinner table by her mother and father about history and current events.

Every Sunday, she and her siblings were expected to deliver either reports about a famous person or recite a poem before the rest of the family.

In a later interview with The Dartmouth, she described how her family's emphasis on community service encouraged her to develop legislation that required all Maryland seniors to perform community service in order to graduate from high school.

As a young woman, Townsend worked at her Aunt Eunice's camp for retarded children, raised money for missions to Chile, delivered food baskets to poor families at holidays and was, of course, actively involved with politics.

She said that the Maryland community service initiative will mean that young people who would never otherwise have had the positive experience of performing community service will now be able to enjoy the positive experience of serving one's community.

Likewise, Townsend's childhood experiences led her to formulate a character education initiative as lieutenant governor.

While character education programs tend to be touted more often by Republican politicians than by Democrats, Townsend said that her experiences have convinced her that one best develops a sense of values and personal responsibility at a young age.

During her speech, Townsend sported a prominent Gore 2000 pin. In her later interview with The Dartmouth, she stressed the importance of voting for Vice President Al Gore to the nation's future.

She said that electing Gore president will ensure that the nation's economic prosperity continues, and that Gore has stronger proposals regarding education and the environment than does his opponent, Texas Governor George W. Bush.

Townsend added that Gore supports policies more favorable toward women than Bush.

She cited studies documenting Bush's poor record in supporting choice for women regarding abortions. She also noted Gore's record of supporting legislation against domestic violence.

In these last crucial weeks of the election, Townsend said that it is especially important that Gore makes the differences between himself and Bush clear, and that he makes people understand that he cares about helping them, and that Bush does not.

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