Julie Gunnigle said people advised her against talking about being a mom on the campaign trail when she first decided to run for the Legislature.
Gunnigle, a Democratic candidate for the House in Legislative District 15, said people advised her that voters will assume moms don’t have enough time to be a legislator, but they would also assume she’s a bad parent if she was dedicated to the job.
“‘Either way you spin it, you’ll lose,’” she said people told her.
Gunnigle didn’t listen to the advice.
Being a mom isn’t something Gunnigle or her running mates, Jennifer Samuels and Kristin Dybvig-Pawelko, have shied away from.
In fact, one of the reasons the three women decided to run for office was for their children. And they’re pushing back against the notion that mothers shouldn’t run for office, saying that being a mom actually makes them more qualified.
The 2018 elections have drawn a record number of legislative candidates, including a greater number of women and younger people. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, 225 candidates qualified for the August 28 primary election for the House and Senate. That’s the second highest number of legislative candidates to run in the past 20 years, behind 2010 when 229 candidates filed to run for legislative office.
Of the 225 candidates who filed to run this year, 92 were women, or 40 percent. There were 177 candidates who filed to run for the primary in 2016, 64, or about 36 percent, were women. About one-third of the women who filed to run in 2018 – 31 – reported having children under the age of 18 in their household, according records from the Secretary of State’s Office.
Among the three of them, Gunnigle, Samuels and Dybvig-Pawelko have nine school-aged children under the age of 14.
And while 2018 has been dubbed the “Year of the Woman,” the three candidates said they are still asked questions like, “Who is going to take care of your children while you’re at work?” or they get comments like, “Wow, you must have your hands full.”
Gunnigle said her response is always the same: “You know the adage if you want something done, give it to a busy person? That’s totally true. Yes, I’m very busy, but I get stuff done. And I think moms have the unique ability to multitask and multitask under pressure and stress and that’s what we’d bring to the Legislature.”
The LD15 candidates said while many of the men who currently serve in the Legislature and those who are running for office have young children, there’s a double standard when it comes to women, with young children, running for office.
Gunnigle said while men have long used their children as a way to humanize their campaigns in an effort to appear more approachable, women with young children have often been met with skepticism.
It’s something she has experienced firsthand. Gunnigle said that because she and her running mates are moms, some people have questioned how serious their candidacies are.
“Sometimes people look at this race and feel like the three moms are political hobbyists – and we’re not. We’re serious and we’re dead serious,” she said about their intentions to run for office.
Women in Arizona have long held positions of power in state government, so the fact that female candidates are being asked these questions, especially in 2018, is somewhat surprising, said former Gov. Jan Brewer.
But Brewer said that is likely because historically, women who have served in the Legislature have been older with older teenagers or adult children.
Brewer said when she was first elected to the Legislature in 1982, Arizona had more women lawmakers than any other state in the country. She was 37 years old at the time, raising three children under the age of 17.
But the question she got most often wasn’t who was going to take care of her children while she was at the Capitol.
“The comment I always got then was that I was too young. ‘How old are you?’ people would ask me because they expected you to be ancient back then,” she said.
Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said she is just one of a handful of women currently serving in the Legislature who has young children.
She said she identifies more with her male colleagues, many of whom have minor children in the home, than other female colleagues who have adult children.
Ugenti-Rita, who has three children and was pregnant with her youngest when she first ran for office in 2010, said voters were very inquisitive about her scheduling techniques and management styles.
“There’s no shortage of questions about how you juggle it all,” she said. “Some people are a little bit more delicate than others – they try to ask with a bit more courtesy. And then others ask if your kids are home alone. No! Are you crazy? I couldn’t even count how many times I’ve gotten that level of questioning.”
She said while she was never told she shouldn’t bring up her children while on the campaign trail, and doesn’t shy away from the fact that she is a mom, she has made the choice to not campaign on being a mom. She said as a lawmaker, she doesn’t legislate on behalf of her kids, she wants to make decisions based on what is best for the district, even if sometimes the two conflict.
Ugenti-Rita said for many women, there is this assumption that running for office is something that you do when you’re older, once you’re done raising your children.
That’s something she doesn’t subscribe to.
“For a long time women haven’t really looked at politics as a viable option for them to get involved until later in life. Says who? No one should tell you what order you should put your priorities in,” she said.
Ugenti-Rita said being a female politician and having young children is no different than being a working mom in any other profession.
She said it’s something about politics that draws this level of scrutiny because it is one of the last male-dominated fields to integrate and accept women.
But women have shown that it’s not impossible to juggle motherhood and a political career. Just look at Brewer’s rise to the Governor’s Office.
“I was in office 33 years and raised three children,” Brewer said. “Working moms with children get it done.”
Samuels and Dybvig-Pawelko said they aren’t offended by the comments they have received.
“It’s the reality of the world we live in right now. Until we get more women into elected positions, we will be seen as something different,” Samuels said.
And Dybvig-Pawelko said not all of the feedback she has received has been negative.
She said as she and her family have knocked on doors in their community, many of the moms they have met are excited about having someone who looks just like them representing them at the Capitol.
“At the doors, when I talk to voters, it really resonates with them because a lot of people in our community are juggling multiple kids and they know what we’re dealing with,” she said.