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Mount Saint Mary’s students and professors with Melinda Henneberger of The Washington Post. From left to right: Dr. Helen Boutrous, Karla Ballesteros, Dr. Jackie Filla, Melissa Melendez, Melinda Henneberger of The Washington Post, Melanie Sava, Shelby Luchesi-Gallaher and Tatiana Acosta.

How women candidates fared: A 2014 ‘Election Postmortem’

When it comes to women's representation, the 2014 U.S. midterm elections offered mixed conclusions. On one hand, American voters sent more than 100 women to Congress for the first time in U.S. history. In California, however, the new state legislature will include the fewest number of women serving since 1998.

On Thursday, March 15, Mount Saint Mary's University brought together political experts to conduct a "2014 Election Postmortem," and come up with answers on how - and why - women fared as they did.

"This is an important step in understanding how we can better prepare and support Los Angeles women to run for and win public office," says Jackie Filla, PhD, professor of political science at the University, and the "Election Postmortem" organizer. "This type of discussion informs how the Mount engages with female leaders in our own community in an effort to reverse the trend of the shrinking numbers of women serving in elected office."

The discussion featured analysis from veteran political reporter Melinda Henneberger, of The Washington Post. Henneberger pens the Post's "She the People" blog that features women writing about politics and culture. She has also written a book about women voters, and extensively covered female political leaders such as Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Michele Bachmann.

At the Mount, Henneberger noted voting trends among female voters, the increasing use of the term "progressive" by both liberal and conservative female candidates, and - yes - the still-unique obstacles women face running against men.

"My observation as a reporter has been that not only are female candidates still held to higher and different standards than male candidates, but that they aren't supposed to complain about it, lest they risk sounding whiny," Henneberger said. "It's not as bad as it once was, but female candidates still receive questions that men never would."

Dr. Filla provided a breakdown on the numbers from the 2014 midterm elections in California. One thing she emphasized was that when women run for office, they tend to win at rates similar to men. The problem: not enough women are running.

"In all the state races throughout California in 2014, only four lacked a male candidate," Filla said. "How many do you think lacked a female candidate? It was a lot more than four!"

The breakfast discussion attracted a crowd of 50-plus public servants, political candidates, journalists, academics and nonprofit leaders from across Southern California. Among the notable attendees: Wendy Gruel, runner-up in the 2014 race to become L.A.'s mayor; Araceli Campos, president of the City of Los Angeles' Commission on the Status of Women and Girls; and Liliana Perez, deputy director for Toni Atkins, Speaker of the California State Assembly.

Five students from Mount Saint Mary's History & Political Science Department also participated. "Events like this give us invaluable real-world information and allow us to become true participants in our own learning," said Melanie Sava '17.

Melissa Hernandez '15 was another student at the event. In addition to the Election Postmortem, over the past year she has gone though the Mount's Ready to Run campaign training for women, and completed an internship with Los Angeles City Councilor Nury Martinez.

"These are the benefits of being at an all-women's college," Hernandez said. "I find events like these extremely vital to the continued growth of women in higher education and politics."

Fellow student Shelby Luchesi-Gallaher '16 agreed. "Being a student at Mount St. Mary's University, 'feminist' isn't a word that has the same negative connotation and stigma it's had in the past, but rather is an empowering term for all women and girls that should cross all political ideologies and generations."

On Saturday, Feb. 7, Mount Saint Mary's University will host Ready to Run, a nonpartisan campaign-training program for women. The Mount is the exclusive Southern California provider of Ready to Run, developed by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. www.msmu.edu/r2r  

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