Community Voices: Making the Pivot to Public Service

By Political Parity on September 19, 2014

Ask any elected official about their decision to run for office and you will hear varied stories about events and realizations that led them to uproot their lives, leave their careers (in some cases), and build a new life around a singular purpose. If the pivot to public service is a journey with many waypoints and milestones, for Latinas it is also fraught with potholes and “under-construction-barricades.” If we aim to increase Latina representation in local, state, and federal government, we must be strategic about providing a roadmap for Latinas, offering guidance about the different routes to their ultimate political destinations. At Ruth’s List Florida, we partner with progressive, Democratic women to identify their paths to leadership. When they choose public service, we help them build a campaign that runs on all cylinders.

In the six years since our founding, we have applied the lessons learned from our colleagues at EMILY’s List and have learned a few of our own. First, women need to be asked to consider running for political office and they need to be asked many times, preferably by people they trust. For this reason, we tap our members and our statewide Advisory Council to be on the lookout for high-potential women and to ask them directly, “¿Por que no postularse para un cargo politico?” (“Why don’t you run for political position?”) and to keep asking — 6-7 times on average.

We also learned that women need to fit the decision to run into their life plan, which includes not just professional and financial considerations, but additional variables like caring for aging parents or raising children. For Latinas who run small businesses, work for small non-profits, or serve in the public sector, this consideration in particular requires a deliberate re-routing to ensure a future run is not jeopardized by fear for their family’s stability. In my experience, one strategy to assuage their concerns is to establish a committed mentoring or coaching relationship (two uniquely distinct relationships that should not be considered interchangeably).

At the most basic level, however, the woman must first be willing to commit to this process. It will take time and mindful choices along the way, and it requires a good match between mentor/mentee or coach/candidate. Ultimately, some women need more time and guidance to be emotionally and financially ready to pivot to public service.

Ruth’s List Florida hosts quarterly “You Should Run” workshops across Florida that create a safe and casual space for women to engage with elected representatives who share their path-to-leadership stories, coupled with some hands-on “things to think about.” Afterward, we follow up on a quarterly basis to check in on participant’s progress and share opportunities to participate in additional workshops. The goal is to make campaigning less daunting by breaking the process down into smaller pieces and answering the following questions:

  • How do I prepare to run?
  • How do I pick my race?
  • How do I build a campaign team?
  • How can I fundraise for success?
  • How should I handle the media?

The most important lesson of all is that arriving at the destination takes time. Even with a roadmap, some Latinas will take an unexpected detour or choose to exit. For this reason, if we aim to accelerate Latina representation, we must inspire thousands of Latinas of all ages to embrace civic engagement. We must dispel misconceptions about politics so that more Latinas will make the pivot to public service. If allies across the country can apply this small handful of lessons, we can build the pipeline of civic leaders we need to boost the role of Latinas in our government.

Gloria Romero Roses is a LatinasRepresent Miami Host Committee member. Born in Bogotá, Colombia, Gloria has lived in Florida since 1979. She is a real estate professional with over 25 years’ experience and a passionate advocate for reducing recidivism within our juvenile and adult justice systems. These issues were central to her role as President of Artspring, Inc., a non-profit focused on educational programming to develop self-growth and effective life skills for incarcerated women, men, and youth. As a mom, she has worked with Miami Dade County Public Schools on the issue of overcrowding, yielding such precedent-setting practices as the first-ever lease of an abandoned K-mart converted to “swing space” as interim relief for overcrowding. These experiences prompted Gloria to jump off the sidelines and channel her years of advocacy and activism to be a voice for the families of Congressional District 26. As a first-time candidate in 2012, she garnered the endorsement of The Miami Herald and 34% of the vote, holding a two-time nominee at 52%. Gloria currently volunteers as the Statewide Co-Chair of Ruth’s List Florida. She focuses on building a talent pipeline of progressive, Democratic women and supporting their candidacies with technical assistance and the resources to win.

Connect with Gloria and join the #LatinasRepresent conversation on Twitter.

This post originally appeared on the LatinasRepresent blog. LatinasRepresent is a nonprofit, nonpartisan initiative of Political Parity and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda that does not endorse any specific political ideology or candidate for public office. This series of guest posts is intended to lift up the stories of Latina leaders, officeholders, and candidates on the path to public office.