Picking up here where I left off, I thought we would take a different tact. Our four previous guests have featured some of the brightest minds in state and regional politics. We’ve had a chance to talk to legislators and leaders within the parties they represent. These leaders are often recruited and trained by the true unsung heroes who invest a great deal of time and effort into ensuring our political officials have the resources needed to be effective and successful.
In the latest segment of our “Power Player’s” series, we interviewed Kimberly Mitchem-Rasmussen. Kimberly is the Director of the Political Institute for Women. The Political Institute for Women is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that trains women to run elected office and pursue careers in politics.
The Political Institute for Women has a Mississippi chapter which is led by former Greenville mayor, Heather McTeer-Toney. While Mississippi has made great strides over the years as it relates to women holding pubic office, there is still a ways to go. Currently, there are 31 women in the 174 member Mississippi Legislature and Treasurer Lynn Fitch and Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith are the only statewide elected officials.
In my opinion, one of the takeaways from the municipal elections was the lack of women candidates running statewide for various posts and being successful. Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran and Greenwood Mayor Carolyn McAdams were obvious exceptions but for the most part the local politics continue to be male dominated across Mississippi. As a result, that is someting that the Political Institute for Women is working hard to change.
Please see my interview with Kimberly Mitchem-Rasmussen of the Political Institute for Women below
1) MSPOLITICALPULSE: What is the Political Institute for Women? How does it help women interested in politics?
Kimberly Mitchem-Rasmussen: The Political Institute for Women is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that trains women to run for office, pursue careers in the political sector and be vocal, effective political activists in their communities. In additional to our women’s programming we host political summer camps and school programs for girls. It’s imperative that we plant the seeds of political leadership in girls early in life.
2) MSPOLITICALPULSE: What are the top 3 legislative priorities for the organization?
Kimberly Mitchem-Rasmussen: We are focused solely on increasing the number of women running for office and working professionally in the political sector. We don’t set legislative priorities as an organization, our goal is to increase the numbers of women holding elective office and therefore positioned to take up legislative priorities that improve the lives of women and children.
3) MSPOLITICALPULSE: How did you get involved in politics?
Kimberly Mitchem-Rasmussen: Soon after finishing college a number of friends begin pursuing political careers so initially I volunteered in a fundraising capacity in their campaigns. At the time I was serving on number of non-profit boards and volunteering to fundraise as a board member. In politics, unfortunately, money is where the “rubber meets the road” so I quickly got more involved in politics than I’d anticipated. In 2010 I took a position at the White House Project as a southern regional director. I had always supported women’s leadership and I quickly realized after working with Marie Wilson, that it would be difficult for women to make gains in other sectors if we didn’t secure more political power. After my tenure at the White House Project, I founded the Political Institute for Women and began also working as a political consultant.
4) MSPOLITICALPULSE: Who is your political role model? And why?
Kimberly Mitchem-Rasmussen: Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm is hands down my political role model. She was fearless, passionate, out-spoken and so unwaveringly dedicated to equality for women and African Americans. I truly believe her 1972 bid for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination paved the way for us to have Barack Obama become the first African American President of the United States.
5) MSPOLITICALPULSE: In what way(s) has the Political Institute for Women taken the lead to recruit women candidates?
Kimberly Mitchem-Rasmussen: There are a number of organizations in existence that do what we do. I don’t think that one organization should or can take the lead. Politics is a local game. The political climate is difference from city to city, county to county and state to state. No one organization can have substantive presence in every community. We advise women after completing our training to first get involved with the organizations in her community. To successfully run for office she has to understand the political dynamic at work in her own backyard. The one way in which we have differentiated ourselves from organizations is that we have chosen to focus intently and solely on providing comprehensive political trainings and ongoing support for women. On a daily basis, including evenings and weekends we host at least two trainings through our online web-conference service or in cities where we have an office. If a woman decides to run for office today she doesn’t have to wait more than a few days to attend one of our trainings.
6) MSPOLITICALPULSE: Are you familiar with the Initiative 26 (Personhood Amendment) rejected by Mississippians in 2011? And what are your thoughts on it, if any?
Kimberly Mitchem-Rasmussen: I am familiar with Initiative 26. First and foremost I am an ardent supporter of Roe v. Wade. Second, the Personhood Amendment would have been a nightmare to implement, particularly on its legal merits had Mississippians not struck it down. Realistically, I believe the true intent behind Initiative 26 was to provoke a lawsuit to challenge Roe v. Wade.
7) MSPOLITICALPULSE: Are you familiar with Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant’s comments that basically blamed the educational troubles
facing the country on mother’s deciding to enter the workforce? And what are your thoughts on it, if any?
Kimberly Mitchem-Rasmussen: I had the chance to watch Governor Bryant’s comments. Let me say now that I do not believe women entering the workforce has impacted education. Historically, poor and working-class mothers haven’t had the option of working vs. staying home. These mothers have had to work to provide for their families alongside their husbands. Now the political consultant in me thought he made a few missteps. First, he prefaced his comments with the “ya’ll might not like this” a few times before making his point. So clearly listeners were anticipating not liking his comment. I believe he does prefer that women be primary caregivers at home with their children but I also agree with the point he made that modern life poses time challenges for parents. I am fortunate to be able to pick my children up at dismissal from school each day. We are doing homework by 4pm and eating dinner just after 5:30pm. Almost daily I wonder how mothers and fathers that work until 5pm or 6pm have the time to sit down with their children to review school work and have dinner. I then think of those parents that work two jobs and get home when their children are in bed. We are now facing multi-faceted challenges that can’t be blamed on single factors and can’t be solved without comprehensive solutions that include social, economic and political reforms.
8 ) MSPOLITICALPULSE: What kinds of outreach and networks does the Political Institute for Women have in Mississippi? Across the southeastern region?
Kimberly Mitchem-Rasmussen: In Mississippi we are getting up and running. We are honored and fortunate to have Heather McTeer-Toney, former Greenville Mayor and candidate for Congress, as our Mississippi State Director. She hosting trainings for women that want to run for office. Mississippi’s elections schedule offers many opportunities for women to run so again we are fortunate to have Heather working in the state. We host trainings in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee. Having been born and raised in the South I am particularly interested in politically empowering women in the southeastern United States. We are also launching a separate 501c4 initiative, the Women in Politics Network. The Atlanta and Miami chapters of the network will launch this month, June.
9) MSPOLITICALPULSE: So here is a free space question; What would you want our readers to know?
Kimberly Mitchem-Rasmussen: I close every interview, every speech with this message to women. Every woman in America is impacted by legislation enacted at every level of government. Therefore, every woman should be an active, engaged participant in the local, state and national political discourse. A woman can chose to be involved politically in many ways but at a minimum, every woman must be aware of those political issues that impact her life daily.
Kimberly Mitchem-Rasmussen is the Director of the Political Institute for Women and currently resides in Miami, Florida.