Women are underrepresented at almost all levels of elected office.
In the Illinois General Assembly, only 36 percent of lawmakers (64 of 177) are women. In Congress just under 1 in 4 members are women. The shortage is even more pronounced in the Republican Party. Following the 2018 election, the number of GOP women in office fell in Congress (from 29 to 20) and statehouses across the country (from 705 to 660).
One way to build up the bench is The Lincoln Series, a leadership program that trains and mentors up-and-coming Republican women in Illinois. One of the four fellows picked for this year’s Lincoln Series is Madeline Herrman of Bloomington.
“I think we have a future that’s waiting for us,” said Hermann. “It’s important for our party to look inward. Someone recently said to me, ‘There are different shades of red.’ That resonated with me.
“We’re recognizing that there’s no one way to be a Republican woman. There’s an infinite number of ways, and different issues are going to be important for each woman. Embracing all those shades of red and encouraging involvement in civic engagement is ultimately what’s going to take our party forward.”
Herrman recently graduated Illinois State University. She now works as a legislative aide for state Sen. Jason Barickman, a Bloomington Republican.
Herrman said she’s inspired by women in politics and business, from all parties, including former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley (“I respected the way she navigated tough policy issues and rhetoric”) and former first lady Michelle Obama (“how she communicated with poise”).
Why is she a Republican? “I believe in the protection of individual liberties. I believe in small government and lower taxes. Most importantly, I believe everyone deserves the opportunity for success, and that success can be anything they want it to be,” said Herrman.
In McLean County, many of the Republican Party’s leaders are women. Connie Beard is now chair—the first woman to hold that post. Her vice chairman and treasurer are women.
Beard helped recruit two women to run for McLean County Board last fall. One of them, Lyndsay Bloomfield, won her three-way race and now represents District 9 (south Bloomington).
“Yes, I do look and try to find women who are willing to serve and follow in the footsteps of the women who’ve come before,” Beard said. “But I also think the priority has got to be finding good candidates. People who have the right priorities, who view the role of government as that of a servant and not an overlord. It’s trying to find candidates who can meet that criteria and then, hopefully, finding some additional women to serve would be icing to the cake.”
It’s a balancing act in part because Republican Party leaders have historically been critical of “identity politics,” the notion that one’s politics are shaped by an aspect of identity, such as race or gender. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan has said identity politics is “morally wrong.”
Democrats and Republicans have different ideas about how important diversity is. One in 3 Republicans believe there are too few women in political office. In comparison, 8 in 10 Democrats think so, according to the Pew Research Center, as quoted in an NPR report last month.
Beard said it’s about matching the right person to the right role.
“If they happen to be any particular identity, whether it’s a woman or a minority or any number of identities, that’s secondary,” Beard said. “The ability of the Republican Party is to not worry about that identity and search for those people and bring them in and not have a qualifier of, ‘Well, you’re not quite the right identity we’re looking for.’”
Beard downplayed the significance of the decline of Republican women serving in Congress and statehouses following the 2018 election. She said women have had a strong role in the GOP for a long time.
“People forget that,” she said. “It’s just been overshadowed by the Democratic Party, who keep pointing a finger and saying the Republican Party is against woman. And that’s far from the truth.”
The Lincoln Series in Illinois has helped train a lieutenant governor, state senator, state representative, countywide officials, statewide candidates, campaign managers, as well as presidential appointees.
Herrman and the other Lincoln Series fellows will appear at a reception at Ewing Manor in Bloomington from 5-7 p.m. Feb. 21. It’s open to all women in the area who are considering stepping into the world of politics.
“My motivations for getting involved in politics are to help others and to create opportunity for others,” Herrman said. “That’s the ultimate motivation that cuts through all that negativity and gridlock."
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