Women are at the forefront of many of this year’s critical and most-watched races. From candidates for governorships making waves from red-to-blue states, to game-changing senate seats up for grabs, women are making their voices heard now more than ever. Pivotal issues, including equal pay for women, health care, and campus sexual assault are front and center in Washington and statewide with women leading the charge. While the 113th Congress boasted 20 female senators – more than any other Congress to date, women still only make up 24.2% of state legislators in the U.S. With only a few months until the November midterm elections, it’s down to the wire for many candidates striving to change all that and bring a female perspective to the table.
To showcase a year of textbook races for women, msnbc introduces ’30 in 30,’ a new series where the 30 of the most dynamic women candidates seeking office in 2014 will be spotlighted: One a day over the next 30 days. The candidates – Democrat and Republican – have answered questions based on women’s issues and being a woman in a male-dominated industry. Welcome to Day 11!
Name: Connie Pillich
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Race: Ohio State Treasurer
Challenger: Republican Joshua Mandel
Here’s the deal: Pillich – an Air Force veteran with eight years of active duty – is a ranking member of the Military and Veteran Affairs committee in the 28th Ohio House District. She is running against the current state treasurer. Her No. 1 priority if elected will be to safeguard Ohio’s tax dollars and protect the state’s pensions.
How has being a woman in a field dominated by men impacted your race so far?
In my life, I have learned that in order to move forward, you have to challenge the status quo. When I first joined the Air Force, women weren’t even allowed to fly. But we got together and challenged the status quo. And now women serve in virtually every field and every aircraft in skies across the globe.
And as a woman running for statewide office I’m going to keep doing that. I received the best leadership training in the world as a captain in the United States Air Force. While I was on active duty, I earned my MBA and, after having my two kids, graduated from law school. I went on to practice law for 13 years—Including banking law—before getting back into public service as a state legislator. I believe my professional background tells an important story about why I’m qualified to be Ohio’s next treasurer, and will help me continue to challenge the status quo so we can continue to move Ohio forward.
What will you bring to the role that your opponent can’t?
In the Air Force, there was never a Democratic or Republican way to get things done—just the right way. That’s how I’ve approached public service throughout my career, and how I’ll do it as treasurer. Fortunately, if I win I will be based in Columbus (not Washington), but I do think there are some things I can do there that my opponent, Josh Mandel, cannot.
In particular, let me tell you a story that highlights an important contrast between Josh Mandel and me. When I was an attorney, I represented a client named Jean. Jean was disabled and without health insurance when her son was diagnosed with cancer. Desperate, she was sucked in by a predatory lender who convinced her to re-finance her home to pay for her son’s cancer treatment. When it was all said and done, he had mortgaged her home for $20,000 more than it was worth, paid himself thousands of dollars in fees, left Jean with a mortgage payment that ate up 80% of her monthly income, and netted her about $1,300 to pay the doctor. I was able to step in and help Jean keep her home, and I’m proud of the work I did for her.
But Josh Mandel cozies up to the same sort of predatory lenders that took advantage of her in the first place. Two years ago he took more than $170,000 in campaign contributions from people and institutions in the predatory lending industry. I think that’s wrong. I think Ohio’s treasurer should be out front in improving financial literacy so that our most vulnerable populations—like our young people, or members of our military community, or people like my client Jean—don’t have to resort to these predatory lenders to make ends meet during hard times. As treasurer, I will expand our financial literacy programs so that our families will be stronger, our communities will be stronger, and our economy will be stronger, too.
If elected, what will be your #1 priority?
The number one job of the Ohio treasurer is to safeguard our tax dollars. There’s no question that that will be my first and most important priority upon taking office.
But I also take to heart the responsibility to protect Ohio’s pensions. Under the current treasurer’s watch, custodial fees to handle international investments on the state’s largest pension system have jumped from $75,000 per year to $3.5 million per year. All because of one decision our treasurer made to switch banks. You don’t need an MBA to know that $3.5 million is a lot more than $75,000.
As the treasurer I plan to tackle that kind of waste and inefficiency head-on. I ran a tight ship in the Air Force, I ran a tight ship when I ran my own law firm, and I plan to run a tight ship as Treasurer.
What can we expect to see from your campaign this summer?
Everywhere I go in Ohio people are working twice as hard but only getting half as far. They aren’t looking for special treatment—just the opportunity to work hard, raise their families, and retire with dignity. They want an economy where everyone plays by the same rules and gets the chance not just to get by, but also to get ahead.
This summer, you’re going to see me talking about some nonpartisan ways to help tackle those issues. We’ll talk about improving financial literacy in Ohio, so that hard working families are better able to save for retirement. We’ll talk about boosting the economic development arm of the treasurer’s office. The treasurer has some powerful tools available to help improve small business owners’ cash flow or assist farmers and rural Ohioans during times of natural disaster. Right now they’re being under-utilized, and I think we can do better to assist the people who make up the backbone of our economy.
And you’ll see me talking about an issue that’s near and dear to my heart: doing more for our veterans and military families. Making ends meet on active duty and after is not easy. When I was in the Air Force I had airmen reporting to me who depended on food stamps and WIC to feed their families. These days studies have found that 30% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans self-report problems with money management. If we can do more to improve their financial planning skills—things like setting up household budgets and better saving for retirement—we can make an important improvement in the military community.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to young women looking to pursue a career in politics today?
Without a doubt, we need more women in public office. The skills, life experiences, and perspective that women bring to the table are needed to the future security and prosperity of America. Now more than ever, women should contribute to the public policy of our local communities, states, and nation. Women have done this behind the scenes for over 200 years. It’s time to bring us into the public eye.
To women considering a role in politics: Run. You have every asset needed to run and win. Every woman who has already served as an elected or appointed official has already shown that you can do it. Believe in yourself, put in the work, and run to win. We need you.
Which women in politics inspire you?
The first woman that comes to mind is Madeleine Albright. When she became secretary of state, she certainly broke a glass ceiling, but what impressed me was that despite all the glass shards surrounding her, she didn’t seem to miss a beat upon taking office.
Also, as a woman who’s practiced law, I would be remiss not to mention Sandra Day O’Connor. O’Connor broke many barriers. First as a young woman attorney who, in spite of graduating third in her class at Stanford, was denied an interview by at least 40 law firms because of her gender, and only got a job by working for free. Then she entered the Arizona state senate, eventually earning a place as the first female majority leader. And finally, by rising to an appointment to the United States Supreme Court, she opened so many doors for other brilliant women to advance in their fields. It’s hard not to be inspired by what she did in being appointed to the bench.
How will you address unequal pay for working women?
Ending gender discrimination in pay could do an incredible amount for our working families. Nationally, women earn about 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. In Ohio, that plays out to women being shortchanged about $207 per week. Imagine the groceries your family could buy with an extra $207 per week. Imagine how many times you could fill up your car with gas. Perhaps you could start to save for your retirement, or your kids’ education.
Those missed economic opportunities are exactly why I introduced the Ohio Equal Pay Act earlier this year. It would bring Ohio in line with the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, giving women a state-level outlet to better address situations when they find out they are not earning equal pay for equal work. That’s an important step in the right direction, because ultimately if we can end gender discrimination in pay we can put more money in the pockets of working families, who can then go and put more money into their local economies.
Wild Card! What’s the first concert you ever attended?
It was way back in 1975, but…Chicago! I went with my high school bestie, Charlene. We were 15 and went with the permission of our moms—but definitely not our dads! My mom told me my Dad wondered where I was when the evening news mentioned the concert. Fortunately, she covered for me.
Check out msnbc’s Women of 2014 Twitter Trail to follow 2014 candidates to watch all in one place!