By Patricia Campos-Medina
In House of Cards season six, President Claire Underwood looks directly at the camera and says: “It will be different for you and me; I’ll tell you the truth.
At the start of the series, viewers loved how ruthless Claire was in pursuing her husband’s political agenda. It was common to see President Frank Underwood ignore her talents and yet expect her to apply them to further her own goals.
As long as Claire helped her political success, she was useful. Her relevance to the series ‘storyline was simply to support her husbands’ political triumphs. By the time she became the main character, her truth no longer mattered.
Just before Christmas Day, news broke that a man in his thirties with a famous name had been chosen by male leaders as the heir apparent to the open seat of Congress at CD-8, which includes Hudson County, one of New Jersey’s most diverse districts. .
These men proudly displayed their support regardless of the lack of primary elections, nepotism, inexperience, gender inequality the ruling perpetuates in New Jersey politics.
A recent Jersey City Times editorial aptly described the ad as an example that in New Jersey, “… only a few people have all the power and the voters are basically irrelevant …”.
In this case, the decision by the Democratic Party leadership to crown a successor even before a vote is cast shows that the men who control New Jersey party politics are embracing the idea that the primary role of women is simply a supporting role, there to give credibility to the machinations of their political ambitions. Their contributions are not sufficiently valued to be part of the politics of power or included “in the room where it happens”.
New Jersey currently ranks 25th in the country for the percentage of lawmakers who are female, a low rank for a Deep Blue state. According to a recent data analysis, “Of the 120 elected officials who make up the New Jersey legislature, 84 of them are white, non-Hispanic, with a total of two-thirds of them being men.
New Jersey has only two women in the Congressional delegation, Representative Mikie Sherrill CD-11 and Representative Watson-Coleman CD-12 – the first African-American woman to go to Congress from New Jersey.
New Jersey had a female governor, Republican Christie Todd Whitman, and two lieutenants. governors, a title intended only to soften the image of the man in charge. If you don’t believe me, look at what happened to Kim Guadagno.
She was as tough as the County Sheriff, but she couldn’t get past the power-hungry character of Chris Christie. And our current Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, a political maverick on her own, has quietly worked hard to try and solve intractable problems at the State Department of Consumer Affairs. Yet despite her beliefs, she is not even mentioned or considered for a candidacy for governor in 2025.
Political leaders statewide like to say that New Jersey’s strength is its diversity, yet that diversity is lacking in our politics. Perhaps, more radically when it comes to Latin representation. Although Latinos grew to 21.6% of New Jersey’s population in the 2020 census, our number in the state legislature remains stagnant at around 9%. And while two Asian American women were elected in the last election, those numbers are well below their own population growth.
Women organized and helped the Democratic Party to take over Congress in 2016; they engaged voters locally to defeat President Trump and re-elect a Democratic governor last year. Yet despite all this party building, it became clear that New Jersey women have lost ground.
As the population continues to rejuvenate and diversify with more and more women and women of color graduating from colleges and holding professional degrees, New Jersey’s political leadership remains masculine, white, older, and excluding.
I am an eternal optimist who believes in the power of organized people. As we demonstrated after 2016, when it comes to our rights, it is our responsibility to keep a line in the sand for future generations of women who want to aspire to leadership positions.
It’s time to speak out loud about what it will take for women to run and win on their own terms. And we all know that power doesn’t grant anything without a demand.
Our demand must begin with fair and competitive primary elections where voters can assess candidate credentials and choose who is best qualified to serve. For that to happen, New Jersey must eliminate the county party poll line that gives party-backed candidates a 30% advantage in both vote and money. We also need to make the redistribution process independent and community focused, as outlined by the Fair Districts NJ Coalition.
We must also become intentional in supporting any candidate who has the courage to challenge the status quo. And if that person is a woman of color, back him up with a check. Keep in mind that national groups assume that a blue state like New Jersey is progressive, so they often ignore calls to engage grassroots voters of color to challenge party incumbents.
And to all men in politics, stop making excuses to continue the behavior of the men before you. Stop telling us that there are no qualified women of color, no qualified Latinas. Go out and recruit them, train them and help them expand their donor network so that they can fundraise and be competitive.
Guys might get away with picking another guy again this year, but our fight is for New Jersey’s future. Not for his past.
A house of cards doesn’t last forever.
Patricia Campos-Medina is a labor, political and immigrant rights activist. She also appears on the #ActivistaRiseUp podcast.
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