Ruth’s List #CampaignSquad event at Gramps in Miami on August 15.EXPAND
Ruth’s List #CampaignSquad event at Gramps in Miami on August 15.
Photo by Dylan Bouscher

235 Progressive Women Are Running for Public Office in Florida, Mirroring a National Trend

The number of progressive women running for office in Florida has nearly quadrupled in two years.

That’s according to Marika Lynch, chair of Ruth's List Miami, the local branch of a statewide organization that recruits, trains and provides resources to left-leaning women running for state and local office.

Ruth’s List Florida has raised more than $4 million and helped candidates win 81 races in ten years. The 235 candidates the group is supporting in this November’s election is an uptick from approximately 60 who ran for office with the organization’s backing in 2016. Emily’s List, the group’s nationwide counterpart, focuses on supporting progressive, pro-choice Democratic women in federal electoral races.

The 235 women are running for school boards, county commissions, seats in the Florida House, Senate, cabinet, and gubernatorial races.

“They are lawyers and accountants and stay at home moms,” says Lynch, a former Miami Herald reporter. “They got into this because they care about improving transit, keeping Miami safe from climate change and to ban fracking."

Florida’s legislature is approximately a quarter female, with 27 representatives and 13 Senators making up the 40 women. Arizona and Vermont’s legislatures are more equally representative of the sexes, with women making up 40 percent of the elected lawmakers in those states.

Cindy Polo is a Ruth’s List-backed candidate for Florida House District 103, which encompasses parts of northwest Miami-Dade and south Broward. The seat is currently held by Republican Manny Diaz Jr. Polo is one of the 235 Florida candidates running in what Pam Goodman, Executive Director of Ruth’s List Florida, calls an “extremely pivotal time in our history.”

“The 235 women are the ones that stood up to kind of be the soldiers, putting themselves out in front of the troops,” Goodman says. “But we have thousands, tens of thousands of women here in Florida that are supporting those women.” She adds that many of the women backed by the organization this year have never run for office before.

Polo attended a campaign meetup for Ruth’s List Florida at Gramps in Miami on August 15 along with Irene Toroella Garcia, a Miami-Dade School Board district 4 candidate; Dotie Joseph, a candidate for Florida House District 108 and Danielle Levine Cava, who's running for the District 8 seat of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners.

“The more diverse our government is, the better decisions we’re going to have for all people,” says Karl Fils-Aime, a 33-year-old Miami resident and co-founder of KAZU Wi-Fi, a Haitian American activist group offering a free Wi-Fi network for customers at participating businesses around downtown and Miami Beach. He described the Ruth’s List event as a humanizing way to meet politicians. He added that it’s one he would not typically attend.“Seeing diversity for the right reasons, because people are motivated, is a good thing.”

Shirley Gibson, the former mayor of Miami Gardens, says she’s excited to see younger progressive candidates in politics, adding that it’s been “a lonely place for many years because there were not a lot of women.”

“I’m excited to be among these younger women who are engaged,” she says. “It’s the time of the woman.” Goodman, who worked with the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Florida before joining Ruth’s List Florida, said she chose a side after watching legislative inaction on gun safety after the Pulse and Parkland shootings. And she points out that the majority of Floridians supported change. “This is a movement — clearly,” she says. “And we needed a movement.”

Florida statistically mirrors the rest of the United States, where 1,874, or 25.4 percent of the 7,383 state legislators are women, according to the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics’ Center for American Women and Politics.

Nationally women currently hold 450, or 22.8 percent, of the 1,972 state senate seats and 1,424, or 26.3 percent, of the 5,411 state house or assembly seats.

In Congress, 107 women hold seats, representing 20 percent of the 535 members in both the House and Senate. Roughly two thirds, or 78 of the women, are Democratic while 29 are Republican. The 23 women in the U.S. Senate equal 23 percent representation there, and 84 women serving in the U.S. House of Representatives equal 19.3 percent representation in that body.

Ruth’s List is named after Ruth Bryan Owen, the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida, and the South. She took office in 1928. Laws she wrote helped preserve swamp land before the creation of Everglades National Park in the 1940s.

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