Former regent Harkin urges more women to run for office

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Women who aren’t running for office this year ought to be thinking about getting on the ballot in 2018, according to Ruth Harkin, who cracked the glass ceiling for women in political office more than 40 years ago.

“It’s not too soon,” the former business executive said Monday evening in Cedar Rapids at Winning Women, a fundraiser for female Iowa Democrats.

Too many women don’t run for office because they think the timing isn’t right for them, said Harkin, who broke new ground in 1972 when she became the first woman elected to the office of county attorney in Iowa.

“You never hear a guy say that. Certainly not my husband,” said Harkin, whose husband, Tom, served in the U.S. Senate for 30 years before retiring in 2015.

That’s the same year Ruth Harkin, the senior vice president at United Technologies Corporation, completed a 10-year stint on the Iowa Board of Regents.

“The right time is when there is an opportunity,” she said. “Timing and luck can be almost everything in politics. You have to be ready.”

Today, Harkin said, there are 21 female county attorneys in the state. There are 65 female legislative candidates running this year and, for the first time, two female candidates — Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senate challenger Patty Judge — will appear at the top of the Iowa Democratic ticket.

“I never thought I would see Democratic women all the way up and down the ticket, but that’s the case in about five places in Iowa,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire told the audience of about 90 people that included several female officeholders and candidates as well as a pair of former lieutenant governors — Jo Ann Zimmerman and Judge.

Women run “to determine the future, our future,” Harkin said. “To have influence, to have power, to be in service in something we care about not only for ourselves, but our children and our grandchildren, to be a role model and to bring a new and valuable perspective.

“We can’t get these things done if we aren’t in the room,” she said.

And when the opportunity presents itself, it’s important that women candidates have the support of other Democratic women.

McGuire launched Winning Women last year in an effort to promote the contributions and achievements of Iowa’s female Democrats and inspire more women to run for public office.

“When Democratic women elections, Iowa families win,” McGuire said. Democratic women are proud to advocate for “pro-family policies like equal pay for equal work,” raising the minimum wage, paid family leave and education.

“Too many women try to do it all on their own, but we are so much stronger together,” Harkin said, borrowing a campaign slogan from Clinton, who she has been supporting since the former first lady ran for the U.S. Senate in New York in 2000. “That’s especially true once we are in office.”

Actress Dana Delany, best known for her roles in “China Beach” and “Desperate Housewives,” praised the Iowa caucuses.

“I’m so impressed with your system, the whole fact that you, with your caucus in February, set history. You set the tone for the rest of the country that Hillary Clinton is going to be our first female president.”

Earlier Monday, Delany stopped by the Mason City Democratic headquarters where she told activists Clinton is “ready and, more important, the country’s ready” for her to be president.

“This is an election where you can’t afford not to vote,” she said.

John Skipper of the Mason City Globe-Gazette contributed to this story.

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