California’s Mother of the Year Wants to Put More Moms in Office
Simona Grace came to America from Hungary at just 18 years old. She didn’t speak English, so she took ESL classes at a community college before becoming proficient enough in the language to transfer to UCLA. She graduated summa cum laude in 2013 and remained in Los Angeles, raising her son as a single mother. Then, Grace worked for California Rep. Katie Porter’s midterm campaign in 2018.
It was through that experience, she told Supermajority News, “I realized that moms face a unique set of challenges when running for office. It is much harder for women with young children to fundraise and to reassure voters they can balance work and family. I began researching some statistics and I became determined to make a change, so that we can give all women the equality they deserve.”
Grace founded the Moms In Office, a political action committee (PAC) that aims to help progressive mothers get elected at all levels of government, in 2019. Through formal endorsements and campaign contributions, Moms In Office has already proven immensely successful in its space and this year can even claim superstar candidates like its inspiration, Rep. Katie Porter, and Senate-hopeful from Georgia, Nikema Williams.
Their work is necessary — women comprise less than 24% of Congress, holding 131 Senate and House seats. Currently, only 26 congressional seats are held by women who are mothers to children under the age of 18; just two senators — Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) — have children under the age of 18. Altogether, that’s 5% of our legislators, while about 88% of women become mothers by the age of 44 in the U.S.
Supermajority News spoke with Grace about what we all can do to ensure more progressive mothers gain political power in 2020 and beyond.
Tell me about the genesis of Moms In Office. What’s been the most difficult aspect? The most rewarding?
It’s intimidating to stand up to power and money in American politics. So even before I began, I had to come to terms with the fact that people may not listen to me, regardless of how noble the fight or the cause because without money, connections, and power, my voice and my cause didn’t matter [to some people]. The reason I am extremely transparent about this is because I have seen women running for office all across the country experience this. I believe that if we want to elect changemakers, the rules of the game also need to change. I believe that organizations supporting women also need to act like changemakers.
I had to tell myself everyday that I needed to lead by example if I wanted to help other women who were not independently wealthy and if I wanted to give them courage. The most rewarding experience about what I am doing is when someone comes up to me and says, ‘because of you I believe that I can be in politics.’ There are so many moms and women who don’t believe they have a fair shot or a way to be more politically engaged because they don’t have the time or the resources or because they don’t look like politicians. So, the fact that I don’t fit in a box, I wear that as a badge of honor because it’s what helps others to believe in themselves. It helps them believe that they too have a place in American politics.
Why do we need more working mothers in positions of political power?
Two reasons: 1) We need to make sure that our elected officials have lived through the hardships we seek to end, and 2) to allow women to enter politics sooner. Our personal experiences do inform our policy-making and our policy priorities. As a single mom, I understand the challenges and the struggles most women in my position have. Childcare is not affordable, jobs that offer flexibility don’t pay enough, and it’s impossible to save for college when you are paying off your own student loans. This is the reality of so many single moms, working moms, and working families alike, but this is not the reality for most members of our Congress. How do we expect to see change when elected officials are not fighting for what we need because they just don’t get it?
We also need to level the playing field for women and motherhood is a barrier that keeps women from becoming the policy makers we need today. Women have to delay their careers in politics and wait. At the same time, men enter politics in their 30s. This means that men and women don’t have the same opportunities to gain experience in politics and men get to those positions of power before women even have a chance to enter politics. If we ever want to see a woman elected president in the U.S., we need to fix the pipeline first.
Moms In Office has endorsed and worked with a number of women political leaders. What have you learned from these experiences?
I learned that it is much harder for women to run for office than I could have ever imagined. These women have so much courage to stand up and fight for their communities and our democracy everyday. They give me hope that our country has brighter days ahead when we elect representatives who represent the diversity of the American people.
I also learned that we need more political organizations that want to help women. Voters question what’s wrong with a candidate if the establishment-aligned women’s organizations didn’t endorse them. What will remedy this is having [more] women’s organizations helping women and doing it in a way that doesn’t require candidates to raise at least $300,000 from friends and family first before they even speak to them.
How can we ensure more working moms win their races? Aside from fundraising, how do we effectively organize around mothers?
We need to fight the bias that surrounds motherhood in America; the onus of raising children falls entirely on the mother. As a society, we should be collectively responsible for raising future generations and helping women enter and re-enter the workforce. We need policies that will ensure higher paying jobs for women and higher workforce participation for women. Paid family leave, universal preschool, and a higher minimum wage would economically empower women and put more women in a position to be able to run for office.
We also need to pass legislation like the Help America Run Act that would help candidates with caregiving responsibilities and make it easier for the average American to run for office. Not only is running for office out of reach for most working moms, it’s out of reach for most working Americans who need a pay check or a job to have access to health insurance. This problem is way bigger than helping working moms once you start understanding how our political fundraising and election process works. I also believe we need to overturn Citizens United. Corporations are not people.
How do we organize around mothers? So many mothers wish to be more politically engaged and informed, but current politics, and media and news outlets are not inclusive of them and alienate moms. Most election coverage is produced by men; female journalists covering the presidential races continue to be in the minority. This explains how the voices of moms are excluded. We need to make election coverage and journalism more reflective of the experiences of the average American person, working women, working mothers, and families.
What policies would better help support working mothers who are in politics or who would like to become involved in politics?
There is no justice without economic justice, and women are expected to make it in a country that is not designed for them. We need to reorient our government toward caring about people and providing for people so we can achieve the kind of progress we want to achieve. When one out of four women return to work within just two weeks of giving birth, we can’t say that we live in an equal and just society. When seven out of ten mothers are working mothers but earn 70 cents to the dollar, we don’t live in an equal and just society. When the fastest growing segment of minimum wage earners in America are mothers and our minimum wage is not a living wage, we don’t give women the equality they deserve. I find it ironic that I must call myself a progressive because I believe in paid leave, paid sick leave, universal preschool, affordable childcare, a higher minimum wage, and access to health care.