Women Pitch New Bipartisan Group

Posted April 1, 2009 at 3:35pm

After Jackie Speier won her first election in 1980, she picked an old fight and won it with a new strategy. She had just been elected the only woman on the San Mateo (Calif.) County Board, and she was determined to follow up on an idea to establish a commission on women that had been shot down two years earlier.

“I decided that the way to be successful was to get all the women who had run all the men’s campaigns … testifying in support of the women’s commission, and it worked,— the Democratic Congresswoman recalled.

Even as Speier moved on to the California Legislature and now to the House, the Commission on the Status of Women still exists in San Mateo County. Speier credited the commission with working on domestic violence, getting women engaged in the political process, partnering with another group to write a children’s bill of rights and studying the “feminization of poverty.—

Today Speier plans to introduce a bill to establish a similar commission at the federal level with the support of a group called WomenCount. Her commission, called the Presidential Commission on Women, would have a different mandate than the White House Council on Women and Girls formed by President Barack Obama three weeks ago.

“It has a many-faceted charge. It becomes the repository of all data regarding women in America. It becomes the sounding board for issues that are challenging women in America. It becomes the convener of women in elected office and serving on commissions throughout the country to come together,— she said. “It will heighten our awareness of how far we have not come.—

The group would be intentionally bipartisan, as the president and the majority and minority leaders in both chambers would appoint a certain number of members of the commission. Unlike the president’s council, which is made up of a group of his advisers and is designed to study the impact of his agenda on women, this commission would include experts outside Washington, D.C., and be less likely to be influenced by political pressures. Also, Obama’s council will end with the close of his presidency. Speier said her bill would authorize $10 million in funding for the commission.

Stacy Mason, executive director of WomenCount (and a former Roll Call editor-in-chief), said the commission would be similar to a group President John F. Kennedy formed during his administration, adding that the one Obama started is closer to an advisory group President Bill Clinton had.

Mason’s group originated the idea for the commission even before the new president was sworn in, and she said Speier found out about it through one of the group’s e-mails. She said they are “thrilled— with the president’s council but are also looking for something “very different.—

Speier said she has just begun looking for co-sponsors to the legislation and has spoken to Tina Tchen, one of the leaders of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and the White House legislative affairs office about the bill. Mason pointed to a list of 55 feminist and liberal groups that support the bill on the WomenCount Web site.

Speier has high hopes that the bill’s passage would lead to some of the same kinds of changes that took place in California.

“It will be the foundation from which legislative reforms will be built,— she said. “It will be the columns that Members of Congress will pick up and turn into legislation.—