Will this be the “midterm of the women?” Many have hailed 2018 as the “Year of the Women” as we’ve seen a surge of women voice their dissent, from the demonstrations surrounding Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation to the more than 20,000 women and men who walked out of Google last week to protest the tech giant’s mishandling of sexual harassment allegations.
This Tuesday the collective sense of “enough is enough” that has fueled the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements will be tested on the political stage. There is a record number of female candidates running for office in the midterm elections, hoping to turn anger into action. Frustrated that their voices aren’t being heard and anxious as they see government policies focused on women’s rights, healthcare and family wellbeing stall or rollback; women are stepping up.
These female congressional nominees are adding to the most diverse pool of candidates in U.S. history. According to the New York Times, “more than a quarter of all the candidates running this year are female, including 84 women of color — a 42 percent increase from just two years ago.”
The themes that run across all these women’s campaigns go beyond sexual harassment and equal pay, to healthcare, education, jobs and diversity and inclusion. There are women on both sides of gun control, tax reform, national security, and immigration issues but almost all shared a desire to help their communities work together.
In addition to longtime politicians, lawyers, educators, and veterans running, there’s a number of executives and entrepreneurs vying for office, many for the first time, determined to turn their business experience into lawmaking power. These candidates believe that one way to make real change is to be in the position to impact policies that affect women.
Of the 260 women listed on the Center for American Women and Politics directory of U.S. Congressional and state-level nominees, we found over 60 women running for House and Senate who claim to have entrepreneurial experience, including small business owners, strategic consultancy principles, and non-profit founders. Several others have climbed the ranks in corporate America.
For example, Suzan DelBene, the incumbent Democratic Representative from Washington’s 1st District, spent over 12 years at Microsoft, rising to VP of mobile communications. She also helped launch drugstore.com as its original VP of marketing and store development and served as CEO and president of the startup company Nimble Technology.
Two candidates who are poised to make history in gubernatorial races also combine business acumen with political aspirations. Stacey Abrams, a former state legislator from Georgia, is in the running to become the first black woman elected governor in the U.S. Abrams co-founded NOW Corp., a financial services and revenue acceleration company.
Michelle Lujan Grisham, who could become the first Latina Democratic governor in the U.S., cofounded Delta Consulting Group, in 2008, a firm specializing in management services for nonprofit organizations and professional associations.
In another potential first, Angie Craig, the Democratic challenger for Congress in Minnesota’s 2nd District, could become the first openly gay representative from Minnesota. She spent a decade at St. Jude Medical, a global medical technology company where she worked in corporate communications managing media relations for the medical technology company, and global human resources.
Then there are the many women who are taking the leap to run for the first time. Here are eight inspiring first-time U.S. Congressional nominees with experience in business that are running for change.
Lena Epstein, Michigan, US House of Representatives, Republican
Epstein is the fourth-generation Epstein family member in charge of Vesco Oil, which distributes automotive lubricants and claims to be one of the largest female-owned businesses in Michigan with sales over $180 million per year and 200 employees.
She’s the 37-year-old Republican first-time candidate and challenger for Michigan’s 11th Congressional District, a race with no incumbents. As a woman who overcame obstacles in the male-dominated automotive industry, she believes her business experience will be an advantage in Washington, D.C.
Chrissy Houlahan, Pennsylvania, U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat
Chrissy Houlahan was the founding COO at B-Lab, the nonprofit that certifies B Corporations, which has come to be the emblem of companies doing good in the world and by their employees. Houlahan, also a first-time candidate and Air Force veteran, is hoping to take her experience to Congress as the Democratic U.S. House of Representatives nominee from Pennsylvania’s 6th District.
Catherine Krantz, Texas, U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat
Not your everyday entrepreneur, Catherine Krantz, the Democratic Congressional nominee from Texas’ 4th district, founded Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival, an eight-day-long music festival in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico. As a first-time candidate, she believes her 20 years of experience in economic development brings her closer to the community than career politicians.
Kimberlin Brown Pelzer, California, U.S. House of Representatives, Republican
If you watched daytime television between 1990 and 2018, you probably saw Kimberlin Brown Pelzer’s face, as she was Sheila Carter on both The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful. The Republican Congressional Nominee for California’s 36th District has also owned a sports fishing business, marina rental company and an avocado farm with her husband.
She also founded and owns K. Brown Design. She and her husband’s business entities employ over 100 Californians. While the first-time candidate is considered an underdog, she has campaigned that her experience as a small business owner who has felt the frustration of government regulation first hand will be an advantage in office
Lea Marquez Peterson, Arizona, U.S. House of Representatives, Republican
First-time candidate Peterson is running for the open seat in Arizona’s 2nd District. She points to her strength as a businesswoman in her bid for Congress. Peterson has owned and operated a chain of gasoline stations and convenience stores in the Tucson region and ran a business brokerage firm. Since 2009 she has been CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Elaine G. Luria, Virginia, U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat
A Navy veteran, Luria served for 20 years as a Surface Warfare Officer and nuclear engineer. When she retired she was inspired by the mermaid statues in her hometown, Norfolk, VA, and decided to start a family business that allows customers to decorate their own or buy a ready-made mermaid memento.
The multi-store company has donated over fifty thousand dollars of their proceeds to charity. The first-time candidate believes her experiences in the Navy and as an entrepreneur will benefit her goals to protect our country and grow the economy.
Dee Thornton, Indiana, U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat
Running for office was always on Thornton’s mind, even as she rose through the ranks at Xerox. Now that she is retired, she feels it is time to transfer her leadership skills to political life. She believes her experience playing college basketball and 30-year career at the global business services corporation will serve her well in politics.
Jane Raybould, Nebraska, U.S. Senate, Democrat
Raybould, the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee from Nebraska, is a VP and director of buildings and equipment at B&R stores, the grocery chain her parents founded in 1964. The company currently owns 19 stores in Nebraska with over 2,000 employees. Raybould feels running a grocery chain that serves hundreds of thousands of customers each week gives her insight to the needs of Nebraskans.
Regardless of how Tuesday turns out, these women have created a collective call-to-action and are serving as inspiration for more women to run for office. It’s known that women candidates face an uphill battle, receiving less funding than men and being held to different standards.
But these women are not letting these facts deter them because they believe we need more women candidates and more women elected, not just on Tuesday but also in the next elections. Here’s hoping that every win and loss in the midterms inspires more women to run in 2020.