Last April, South Carolina Women in Leadership — a multi-partisan group that encourages women to seek appointed or elected positions in the Palmetto State — was launched with a news conference at Columbia City Hall.
Now, nearly a year later, the group is monitoring a small uptick in the number of women who have filed to seek election in 2020, and encouraging women who might be considering a run to take the plunge before filing closes on March 30.
According to research from SCWIL, which has examined state campaign filing data from both major parties, as of March 18 about 25 percent of those who had filed to run for various local and state-level offices in 2020 so far were women. That’s slightly outpacing 2016, when about 23 percent of the candidates who signed up to run for office were women.
South Carolina lags behind other states in regard to the number of women in elected leadership at various levels of government, but the gap is particularly demonstrative in the state Legislature. As noted by the National Conference of State Legislatures, just less than 16 percent of the members of the SC General Assembly are women, despite the fact that women represent more than 51 percent of the state’s population. South Carolina is fourth worst in America in regard to the percentage of women in its Legislature. (Nevada has the nation’s highest percentage of women in the legislature, at 52.4 percent.)
Columbia businesswoman Barbara Rackes, the founder and president of SCWIL, says she’s been encouraged to see women filing to seek seats this year. She continues to believe that the abilities and talents of many women can bring value to local and state government.
“If you have a choice between a good woman and a good man, I think, based on life experience, I’d generally rather have a woman, because I think that we’ve lacked so much of that perspective,” Rackes tells Free Times in a recent conversation. “Women approach public office with such a different kind of experience. Women tend to be more compassionate, and they probably listen a little bit better.
“If there’s ever been a time in our world that we need more people to listen and respond to what they hear, rather than doing all the talking, this would be the time.”
Filing for elected offices across South Carolina is slated to remain open through noon on March 30. However, as noted in a March 19 email from the South Carolina Election Commission, state officials are continuing to monitor the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic that has shuttered many businesses and events in an effort to encourage social distancing.
The Election Commission is asking candidates who might be considering running for office to do so as soon as possible, and to make an appointment so as to avoid crowding in the final days before filing closes. Appointments are being made 15 minutes apart to avoid too much congregation in filing offices.
The Election Commission also notes that filing locations are being cleaned regularly and there are hand-sanitizing stations. Officials are providing one-time-use pens for signing documents, but would-be candidates are also being encouraged to bring their own pens.
Statewide primaries are scheduled for June 9, with runoffs on June 23. The general election is Nov. 3.
The multi-partisan SCWIL is just one of a number of groups seeking women to get into politics. There are also organizations like Emerge South Carolina, which recruits and provides training for Democratic women to seek elected positions at all levels across the state. For instance, current Richland County Councilwoman Allison Terracio is an alum of Emerge South Carolina. Columbia businesswoman Heather Bauer, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the state House District 75 set, also is an Emerge alum.
With the filing deadline closing in, Rackes hopes to nudge into the arena any women who might be near making a decision about running.
“There is not a whole lot of time between now and the primary,” Rackes says. “If somebody decided they wanted to run now and they had a good network, or could build a good network, and they have the energy, they are looking a two-and-a-half-month campaign. If I was running for office, I would be thrilled if I had a two-and-a-half-month campaign.”