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Girls & Women

Meet the Political Newcomer Who Had 3 Months to Build Her Senate Campaign

(Photo credit: Shields for State Senate)

Around the world, fewer than one-quarter of lawmakers are women — an imbalance in representation that affects how laws are crafted and passed and how equality is created in societies. Global Citizen’s series, “Who Run The Gov? Girls!”  chronicles the massive uptick in women running for office, regardless of political party, in the US and around the world, highlighting the candidates and the groups helping them to run, the challenges they face, advice & tips for running, and the results.

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The decision to run for office usually takes a very long time to make — especially for women.

For Hillary Shields, a paralegal in Kansas City, Missouri, her decision this summer to run for a state senate seat in 2018 initially gave her more than a year to plan, learn how to run a campaign, and hone her message.

But then a reporter called her a week later asking if she had heard about the state senator’s resignation. The office was now open. Would she be running to fill it? Suddenly, the long arc of Shield’s campaign shrunk and she froze.

Shields considers herself an “average person” who never saw herself running for office. (Nationally, only 22% of women feel qualified to run for office compared to 35% of men who were surveyed, Vox reports.)

Read More: 250,000 Women in Office by 2030. This Group Is Making It Happen

But following last year’s presidential election, she was motivated to become more involved in shaping the country around her, and the policies coming out of Washington. She is one of more than 16,000 women who have expressed interest in running for office following the 2016 election, according to Emily’s List, the national political action committee supporting Democratic women running for office.

“I had knocked on doors for Barack Obama in 2008 and since then hadn’t been very political,” Shields told Global Citizen. “But the results of the last election were a shock, and I felt I had to get more involved, so I started organizing.”

She cofounded Indivisible KC, a political group that used The Indivisible Guide, created by former Congressional staffers informing citizens how to influence elected representatives. They began setting up meetings with local politicians, holding town halls, and organizing around the Affordable Care Act.

“(Our officials) weren’t having town halls, so we had empty seat town halls,” she said. “And we made these scrap books about people whose lives had been affected by healthcare and gave them to representatives.”

Read More: Nikkita Oliver Ran for Mayor of Seattle and Is Fighting for Marginalized Voices

Still, Shields felt that her political organizing wasn’t getting very far. The national and state lawmakers weren’t listening to their demands.

“They weren’t listening to us, and it felt like if we we’re going to make a difference, we had to put better people in office,” she said. “And I was like, okay, we’ve got to elect different people, so I went to the Jackson County Democratic Party and asked who was going to run against my state senator, and they said no one. They hadn’t had anyone run since 2006.”.

“I said I’m going to do it,” Shields said.

That was in the spring of 2017. If all went according to plan, she would have a year and a half before the 2018 election — enough time, she thought, to get organized.

“A week after I announced my candidacy, a reporter called and said did you hear that Will Kraus resigned and are you going to run in the special election,” she recalled.

Read More: These 7 Heroic Women Leaders Are Breaking Gender Barriers in Government Around the World

“There was a moment of pause, but I felt that this is what I’m here to do, this is what I see myself doing with my life. I said yes, and I’ll do it in three months instead of 16.”

Kraus, a Republican state senator since 2010, resigned in order to take a government-appointed position on the state tax commission. A special election was called to replace him, to be held on Election Day 2017, November 7.

“So I’ve hit the ground the running,” Shields said this week, two months out from election day.  

Her opponent, Missouri House Majority Leader Mike Cierpiot, has raised more money than she has by thousands of dollars, she said. But she is positive she can beat him on campaigning.

Tapping into wealthy donor networks can be more challenging for new, female candidates, according to studies. A report by Political Parity found that female candidates are more likely gain support from individual donors rather than established networks, and the donations are not as long-lasting. Women also typically have less political experience than their opponents, and so don’t have as much of a track record to go on in their stump speeches.

Read More: How the First Latina Senator Is Fighting Lack of Diversity in Congress

“It’s a very grassroots campaign,” Shields said. “I can’t outraise him but there is no way he can outwork me. We’re hitting a lot of people who lean Democratic and they haven’t had a choice (in years). They’re excited someone is running, someone who is progressive is running. I’m not afraid that I’m a Democrat. I want to fund public education, raise the minimum wage, and restore funding to the Missouri Rx Program.”

Despite the funding gap in their campaigns, Shields may have a fair shot at beating her opponent in the polls; according to research, when women run for office they win at the same rate as men.

“I feel like the voters take me seriously,” Shields said. “I was afraid they wouldn’t because I don’t have political experience. It’s challenging because I’m new to politics, I don't have a huge network of donors, but the outpouring of support we’ve gotten has been amazing.”

Since it took Shields 32 years to decide to run for office — she’ll be 33 next week — she has some strong advice for women waiting on the sidelines, considering whether to run.

Read More: This Organization Won 70% of Its Political Races in 2016, and It Only Runs Women

“What I have to say is: you are good enough, you are smart enough, you are ready, and you can do this,” Shields said. “I never thought I would run for anything, but I’m doing it, and we need more people with your drive and your determination and your ideas to run office.”

“I think there are lot of women who are smart and talented who would be great in office, she said. “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people. A lot of women feel like they’re not experienced enough or smart enough, we question ourselves more, and we need to just accept that we are good enough and just need to jump in and you really can do it.”