Women Would Change PolicyQ+A with State Rep. Lisa Subeck
Women weren’t elected to Wisconsin’s state house until 1925 when three were elected “assemblymen” – the title was changed to “representative” in 1969. Today, women hold only 26 percent of seats in the Wisconsin State Legislature, a share that’s been largely unchanged for a quarter century.
Previously serving on the Madison Common Council, representing the 1st district, Rep. Subeck was elected to represent District 78 in Madison as a Democrat in November 2014. She’s worked as the executive director of United Wisconsin, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, a program coordinator for the YWCA’s housing and homelessness programs and program manager with the Head Start and Early Head Start program. Subeck was recently named the Wisconsin state director for the National Foundation for Women Legislators (NFWL).
Q: What are your thoughts in seeing the first female nominated for the American presidency?
A: I’m really excited about Hillary. It makes it so much more attainable to those little girls who have said they want to be the first female president. I also think it’s about time! When I think about all the years of male presidents, I think women have been missing in that picture for far too long.
Q: How do women operate differently than men in the political realm?
A: It’s difficult to generalize, but what I have seen at the table generally reflects research that says men tend to be more aggressive and focused on individual successes whereas women tend to bring more of a collective voice and search for consensus. We have a unique ability and desire to bring people to the table to have solutions for everyone. Women tend to come to politics with an emphasis on problem-solving.
Q: What has been discouraging for you as a woman running for elected office?
A: When I decided to run for state assembly, there were people that came to me and said, ‘You can’t beat him [referring to her male opponent].’ There was never a tangible reason and I was pretty sure it was because they thought women should wait our turn because they’d add, ‘He won’t run next time.’ How many women don’t ever step up and run because somebody says to them, ‘That guy’s gonna win. You should wait your turn’? That said, there are definitely bright spots. Women are here [in the statehouse], we are running for office, we are working together.
Q: How can we encourage civic-minded women to run for office? What advice would you give them?
A: First, we need to make sure we don’t fall into that trap of discouraging women. We need to support women running for office. On a broader level, that’s part of the reason I endorsed Hillary early on in the race. There is a lot I liked about Bernie. But ultimately, Hillary is a strong candidate and a woman. We need to be brave and support each other, have each other’s backs. To women who want to run for office, I would say, ‘Do it’. Don’t run scared. This is a business about knowing people, being involved and building a network, something that women do very well. Capitalize on those networking skills.
Q: If we did have more women at the policy making tables, what could change?
A: I think we would see significant changes in how we support families. We’d see changes in how we support women in the workplace. Women still make 78 cents on the dollar. There is not a lot of incentive for some men to change that. We could see changes in how we handle reproductive health care. What infuriates me is seeing men drive the discussion on reproductive health issues like birth control, mammograms and abortion. Why are men driving those decisions? When you see more women at the table, we see the discussion shift. There is nothing as sexist as a body of majority men debating women’s health issues. We would see women being valued more. It is my sincere hope that more women will get involved and run for office.
For more insights and ideas from other area women in or who have run for office—including U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and candidate for Governor of Wisconsin Mary Burke—see “Run, Women, Run” on P. 61 in the print or online editions of October 2016 issue.