By Patricia Campos-Medina
On season six of House of Cards, President Claire Underwood looks straight into the camera and says, “You and me will be different; I will tell you the truth. “
At the beginning of the series, viewers loved how ruthless Claire was in pursuing her husband’s political agenda. It was common for President Frank Underwood to ignore her talents and yet expect her to use them to achieve his own goals.
As long as Claire was helping his political success, she was useful. Their importance in the show’s plot was simply to support the political triumphs of their husbands. The moment she became the main character, her truth no longer mattered.
Just before Christmas, it was announced that a 30-year-old man with a famous name had been selected by male leaders to be the heir to the throne for the open seat of Congress in CD-8, which includes Hudson County, one of the most diverse counties in New Jersey.
These men proudly presented their support without worrying about the lack of a primary, nepotism, lack of experience, and the gender inequality that continues ruling in New Jersey politics.
A recent comment in the Jersey City Times aptly described the announcement as an example of how in New Jersey “… few people have all the power and the voters are basically irrelevant …”.
In this case, the Democratic leadership’s decision to crown a successor, even before a vote has been cast, shows that the men who control New Jersey party’s politics are sticking to the notion that the leading role of women is simply a supportive one To give credibility to the machinations of their political ambitions. Your contributions are not appreciated enough to be part of power politics or to be included “in the space in which it happens”.
New Jersey currently ranks 25th in the nation for the percentage of lawmakers who are women, a low ranking for a deep blue state. According to a recent analysis of the data, “Of the 120 elected officials that make up the New Jersey legislature, 84 are white, non-Hispanic, with a total of two-thirds men.”
New Jersey has only two women on its congressional delegation, Rep. Mikie Sherrill CD-11 and Rep. Watson-Coleman CD-12 – the first African American to go to Congress from New Jersey.
New Jersey had a governor, Republican Christie Todd Whitman, and two senior governors, a title that is only intended to soften the image of the person responsible. If you don’t believe me, see what happened to Kim Guadagno.
She was tough as a county sheriff, but she couldn’t get beyond the power-hungry personality of Chris Christie. And our current Lt. Gov. A political loner of his own, Sheila Oliver has worked quietly hard solving stubborn problems in the State Department of Consumer Affairs. However, despite her creed, she is not even mentioned or considered for running for governor in 2025.
State-wide politicians like to say that New Jersey’s strength lies in its diversity, but that diversity is absent from our politics. Maybe more drastic when it comes to the Latino portrayal. Although Latinos made up 21.6% of the population of New Jersey at the 2020 census, our numbers in the state legislature have stagnated at about 9%. And although two Asian American women were elected in this last election, those numbers are well below their own population growth.
Women organized and helped the Democratic Party retake Congress in 2016; They hired local voters to defeat President Trump and re-elect a Democratic governor last year. But despite all this party building, it has become clear that women in New Jersey have lost ground.
As the population becomes younger and more diverse as more women and women of color graduate from college and university, New Jersey’s political leadership remains masculine, white, older, and marginalized.
I am an eternal optimist who believes in the power of organized people. As we demonstrated after 2016, it is our responsibility to thwart our rights for future generations of women aspiring to leadership positions.
It is time to say out loud what it takes for women to run and win on their own terms. And we all know that power doesn’t allow anything without a demand.
Our demand must start with fair and competitive primaries where voters can evaluate candidates’ credentials and choose who is better qualified. To do this, New Jersey must remove the county party ballots that give party-sponsored candidates a 30% advantage in terms of votes and money. We also need to make the redistribution process independent and community-based, as outlined by the Fair Districts NJ Coalition.
We must also consciously support any candidate who has the courage to question the status quo. And if that person is a woman of color, support them with a check. Remember that national groups assume that a blue state like New Jersey is progressive, so they often ignore appeals to grassroots voters with colored engagements to challenge the mainstream parties.
And to all men in politics, stop making excuses for continuing the behavior of the men before you. Stop telling us that there are no qualified women of color, no qualified Latinas. Go out and recruit them, train them, and help them grow their donor network so they can raise money and be competitive.
The boys may choose another man again this year, but our fight is on the future of New Jersey. Not because of his past.
A house of cards doesn’t last forever.
Patricia Campos-Medina is an activist for labor, politics and immigration rights. She also appears on the #ActivistaRiseUp podcast.
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