If you think the 2010 campaign for governor of Minnesota is heavy on testosterone, you not only are correct, you may also be wondering how, after decades of progress on women's issues, we ended up with a 1910-style contest between rich white men.
Mark Dayton, Tom Emmer, Tom Horner: It's easy to imagine these patricians in beards and top hats debating how to get more wheat to market while nodding condescendingly to the "ladies" in the audience and telling them to run along home and make supper for their men. (Emmer is the least wealthy of our troika of white men, but he seems to enjoy the most support among those burdened by fortunes.)
It is clear that something important is missing from this campaign discussion. The needs of the wealthy, who would be devastated if required to pay the tax rates they used to pay before government lent them a helping hand, have been thoroughly discussed. So has the necessity to cut billions from the state budget while ensuring that vulnerable groups, such as the Minnesota Vikings, receive the assistance they need to get by on revenues of only $221 million a year. Poor babies.
So, no: It's not the wealthy that are missing from this campaign. It's the women.
Women make up a majority of the state's population, the electorate and the workforce, and they are not getting a fair deal. Affordable and dependable child care, equal pay and equal protection for women and girls should be among the most pressing issues of the campaign. But the 2010 campaign for governor has pushed women's issues to the back burner, where the men of 1910 would have liked them to remain.
The campaign didn't start out this way. When the DFL Party endorsed Margaret Anderson Kelliher for governor in June, she proclaimed that Minnesota was about to "make history" with the chance to elect its first female governor. But history is made by winners more often than by losers. Kelliher lost to Dayton in the primary because her campaign made her seem like just another one of the "guys."
Now, instead of a woman heading for the governor's office, we can't even get women on the agenda. (For the first time in memory, a major party -- the Independence Party -- didn't bother even to endorse a woman for lieutenant governor.) Does the lack of discussion about women's issues mean the state of women is good?
Women in Minnesota are shortchanged on everything from equitable pay to health care to safety and security, according to a damning study on the status on women and girls in Minnesota that was released in June but did not get the attention it deserved. Commissioned by the Women's Foundation of Minnesota and conducted by the Humphrey Institute's Center on Women and Public Policy, the study shows that women have hit a wall. The wage gap between men and women stands at 76 cents for white women for each $1 earned by men in comparable jobs. (Minority women earn even less.) Over a lifetime, that disparity can cost women up to $1 million, which helps explain why twice as many elderly women as men live with incomes under the poverty line.
Among the many other troubling findings: One of three Minnesota women is a victim of a rape or sexual abuse by the time she reaches her 40s. Sexual violence, of course, should be addressed in a comprehensive program of sexual education -- the kind for which Gov. Tim Pawlenty has refused federal funding while taking money to promote fantasy sex-ed programs. No wonder women's health is in question.
Women's issues matters to Minnesota families and deserve to be debated: Three of four women in Minnesota hold jobs, and their ranks include 40 percent of the state's primary breadwinners. But more than half of working women are employed in lower-paid jobs. And while politicians tout the coming of a "green economy" that will boost better-paying jobs in construction, engineering and environmental sciences, few women are in training for such work, and the number of women enrolled in vocational and technical schools actually has dropped sharply.
"We'd like the candidates to talk about how to move women forward," says Lee Roper-Batker, head of the Women's Foundation of Minnesota, who notes that none of the candidates for governor yet has asked to be briefed on the study. "Women and girls face huge challenges, but we're not talking about them in the campaign. I've heard a lot about taxes and budget cuts, but very little about a vision for Minnesota. What do we want the state we live in to look like? Where is the vision for a state where women and girls thrive? Those are the conversations we want to hear."
All right, men. Who is speaking for the women of Minnesota? Hello? Anyone?
Nick Coleman is at firstname.lastname@example.org.