Stephanie Schriock made cemented her reputation as a campaign strategist somewhere between running Howard Dean’s 2004 president fundraising operation, getting Jon Tester elected to the Senate as a Democrat from Montana challenging a 3-term incumbent Republican, and stepping in to take over Al Franken’s then-faltering Senate bid and steering the campaign and the recall fight to victor. In 2010, she became the president of EMILY’s List — a non-super PAC that supports pro-choice female Democratic candidates — after its founder stepped down. She spoke to Raw Story from a private party at the Time Warner Center Arena during the Democratic convention.
Raw Story: You were just telling me a story about [NARAL President and former Montana legislator and statewide education head] Nancy Keenan that no one else has?
Schriock: When I was in high school at Butte High in Montana, Nancy Keenan was the Superintendent of Public Instruction, a statewide elated office in Montana, and she was from Anaconda, which is all of thirty miles away from Butte, Montana. We’re a mining town, Anaconda was the smelter town, so like sister.. well, we call them cities, but you probably call them towns. And she came to my high school and gave a speech like they often do about public service and how she got into politics. She really was an inspiration to me and, as a young woman, I thought, “Wow, here’s this woman who ran statewide who grew up just down the road from me, and she can do that. I can get involved in politics too.”
Truth be told, I am the president of EMILY’s List today because Nancy Keenan inspired me in high school. One of my biggest honors is to be now a colleague of hers, fighting for women’s rights and justice across the country. It’s really a whole wonderful dream story that has come true.
Raw Story: That brings up an interesting point about how seeing yourself reflected in a role that you haven’t thought of yourself in, either as a woman legislator or a black president, really does change kids’ minds.
Schriock: It is so, so important. It’s hard to see what you can be without seeing it. I think having role models is so important for everybody. For women, for men across the country to see Barack Obama become president of the United States was an inspiration to everybody who’s had any struggle or thought of themselves as a minority, or even for women quite frankly. It’s like, “Ok, this can be done!”
And, by the way, women, we’re going to get there, too. We’re going to get into the White House, some time. Soon.
But I do think it really does mean so much to see women. One of the reasons I’m so proud to be the president of EMILY’s List is that race by race, state by state, we get to show more and more examples to young women and women across the country that this is doable, that this is a possibility, it’s a good thing to do and you can do it.
Particularly for young women, who have families, this has been one of the newer things, how do you get young women to run who have children. We have great examples! We have Debbie Wasserman Schultz, we have Kirsten Gillibrand, who can say, “Let me tell you how it’s done, I have little kids at home, I gotta go home at night and give them baths before they go to bed. ” But we can make this happen, and we need their voices. So it’s really about seeing that person and using them as role models, we’re really lucky.
Raw Story: Nancy Pelosi was talking earlier this week about the down-ticket races, that a lot of the races that they’re looking at as potentially pick-ups for Democrats are women candidates. How many races are you guys looking at, how many races have you gotten involved in?
Schriock: The one thing I would say is that EMILY’s List has such a great partnership, and it is a partnership, with Leader Pelosi as we move this forward. EMILY’s List has really been involved in every Democratic woman’s election in the House of Representatives and in the Senate for 27 years. We are a partner in all of this. So we are so excited about our numbers.
We are involved in over 25 House races, 12 of which are pick-ups for the Democrats. I know Nancy Pelosi needs 25, I’m not sure if we can deliver 12 of those, but we’re going to sure do everything we can to deliver 12 of those. But it’s really the majority in the House, and the Senate’s the same way, are really walking through the halls of EMILY’s List this year. There’s women candidates who’ve stepped up to say, “This is our time, we need to win these races.” And if we’re ever, ever going to get to parity, we’d better start being half of the candidates, and we’d better start being half of the victories or we’re never, ever going to get to half of the membership.
Raw Story: Are these candidates stepping up to the plate because they see how Republican policies have the potential to impact women?
Schriock: I think that’s a factor, I absolutely think that’s factor. Every woman has their own story of how they got there and why they’re running, every single one of them. Tulsi Gabbard is running, she has experience serving in the military in Iraq and is now a veteran, she has her own path. Compare that to Val Demings, who’s a police chief in Orlando, Florida, who has her own story. But what they’re all connected by is a deep, driving sense of making their communities better and that it’s really important to focus on family and community to move this country forward. And I know that they all see that the Republican policies are about moving everything backwards, from reproductive choice and health care, to Medicare and Pell grants and the environment and work policies and safety laws — I mean, it just keeps going and going. And I think they are all tied together about this desire to move the country forward and provide opportunities for women and their families, and I think that’s going to be unique about the women stepping up this year.
Raw Story: Looking at the Republican convention last week, they highlighted a lot of their women candidates, but they also spoke a lot about their wives, and their mothers. Do you think that resonates with women, the idea that you don’t have to care about these “social issues”?
Schriock: I watched all of it last week and we all love our mothers, we all love our grandmothers, we all love our daughters. I get it. I mean, I hope they do, I know I do. But the truth is that policy matters, and women and women voters are not stupid. They get it. They get it that if you’re going to roll back their rights and lessen their opportunities, their families are going to be hurt. And they know very clearly that the Republican party has a set of policies that are going to roll all these services they need and all of these freedoms that we have backwards.
Policies really matter. You can put up as many women faces as you want at a convention, but if you don’t have the policy underneath… In other words, if you don’t walk the talk, you’re not doing anything to move forward women’s lives. And the Democratic party has a great history of moving policies forward and providing leadership opportunities for women and that is why at the end of the day, when women vote — and EMILY’s List is going to make sure that every woman in this country can get to the polls — when women vote, Democrats will win. Barack Obama will be reelected, Democrats will win the Senate, they’ll likely win the House, and we will be able to start moving this country forward again, I really believe that.
[Image via EMILY’s List on Flickr]