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 24!
Name: Maggie Toulouse Oliver
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Race: New Mexico Secretary of State
Challenger: Republican Dianna Duran
Here’s the deal: Oliver – previously the youngest female elected official in the state of New Mexico – has heavily campaigned on voting rights and expansion in the state. Oliver, who served as Bernalillo County Clerk since 2007, is fighting for the secretary of state seat against incumbent Dianna Duran – a Republican who supports voter ID. Chuck Todd on “The Daily Rundown” called Oliver a “rising Democratic star” in New Mexico.
How has being a woman in a field dominated by men impacted your race so far?
Interestingly, secretary of state is one race that has been traditionally dominated by women in New Mexico. Always seen as a popularity contest or a prize awarded to women active in politics, this office is now being viewed as the extraordinarily important office it is and, accordingly, more men are jumping into the fray to become secretaries of state. Some of the most prominent secretaries of state in the country are currently men: John Husted in Ohio, Scott Gessler in Colorado (although their prominence is also attributed to their many controversial decisions).
However, in general, I have found it challenging to be a (now relatively) young woman holding political office. I took office at the age of 30, at that time the youngest female elected official in the state of New Mexico. I can count on one hand the number of other women under the age of 45 that currently hold county-wide or state-wide or district offices in New Mexico. Although young men in office abound, it is even more challenging for a young woman to be appointed or elected to office, to be taken seriously, and to become successful and continue a forward progression in elected public service.
What will you bring to the table that your opponent can’t?
I will bring nonpartisan leadership to an office that has been too political for too long and work to make it easier to vote, not harder.
Unfortunately, our current secretary of state has taken many actions that have sought to restrict access to the ballot box and made it more difficult for people to vote. As well, under the current secretary, the office has become very partisan and elections are too important for political games. I decided to run to restore integrity, transparency and nonpartisanship to the office and bring much-needed leadership in order to make voting easier and more accessible for all New Mexican citizens.
My commitment to supporting, empowering, or mentoring other women, particularly younger women also separates me from my opponent.
Once elected, I will continue to expand the opportunities to register to vote and cast a ballot for women of all ages all across New Mexico. I will also continue my work as an advocate both locally with groups like EMERGE NM and nationally with groups like EMILY’s List, Women Under Forty PAC, the Women’s Campaign Fund and others to speak with women about the importance of community involvement and the rewards of running for office.
If elected, what will be your No. 1 priority?
I am a passionate believer in and supporter of American democracy and in the promise that it holds. I would love nothing better than to see full participation across a wide spectrum of the electorate, in a system that truly gives equal weight to each individual voice that registers a vote in our electoral process.
As a result, increasing democratic participation is a core value that I hold and a top priority. In fact, I believe it is the main role of the secretary of state to foster that participation through opportunities to register to vote, learn about voting options and opportunities, and cast a ballot in an unfettered and simple manner.
What can we expect to see from your campaign before November?
I am traveling all across the state of New Mexico’s 122,000 square miles with a message of protecting our citizens’ right to vote and expanding opportunities to cast a ballot. I’m listening to the voters of New Mexico’s rural and urban communities to find out what they want to see in their state’s voting system. I’m raising a record-breaking amount of money in order to bring this message to the voters of my state and bringing this race up to the level of importance and prominence it deserves, given how important this position is for protecting our constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to young women looking to pursue a career in politics today?
No matter where your political beliefs lie, the ability to make your own choices in the manner in which you want to make them is paramount. In my own experience I have placed great importance on civic participation, protecting the right to choose, preserving our environment and helping create a safe and productive community for my family.
Which women in politics inspire you?
I admired former Texas Governor Ann Richards from a young age: She was the first woman governor of Texas, spoke truth to power, and was never at a loss for words. Both of my parents are from Texas originally and I spent a lot of time in Dallas, where my father hails from, growing up. I got to see first-hand the impact of Governor Richards’ election in the state next door to mine.
I also admire other glass-ceiling breaking women: First female secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, and her counterpart, the first female African-American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. It takes a lot of courage to break that glass ceiling. And there are a lot of naysayers to defy along the way. These women have all done that, and it inspires me every day to think of it.
How will you address unequal pay for working women?
Women still face many obstacles in the workplace that limit the potential of too many talented women. I look forward to the day when all New Mexicans, regardless of gender, will get equal pay for equal work.
I believe that by ensuring that every eligible voter has the opportunity to register to vote, all registered voters have an easy and accessible way to cast a ballot and that all ballots are counted accurately, proponents of ending these unfair practices will have the most fair and transparent election environment possible in order to elect candidates and support causes that align with their values.
Wild Card! What’s the last dream you had?
I dreamed that one of my best friends had gotten a fantastic new job and I was among the last to hear about it. Unfortunately, this is true of my life right now - I am very focused on my family, my work and my campaign. It leaves little in the way of social time. Striking a balance can be so hard with so many demands on my time and energy. However, the dream reminded me to keep my friends close and to ensure that I continue fostering those important relationships. After Election Day, my friends and family will be the ones to sustain me the rest of my life so it’s important that I do not forget that!
Check out msnbc’s Women of 2014 Twitter Trail to follow 2014 candidates to watch all in one place!