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 13!
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Race: New Jersey House
Challenger: Tom MacArthur
Here's the deal: A first-time House candidate, Belgard won her party's nomination with 84% of the vote to challenge Republican Tom MacArthur -- a former mayor in North Jersey -- for a U.S House seat in New Jersey's 3rd Congressional District. Belgard was elected to the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders in 2012. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker endorsed her, saying "I know she'll be a powerful force to grow the economy, stand up for women, protect Social Security and Medicare, and work to ensure that our veterans are getting the care they deserve."
How has being a woman in a field dominated by men impacted your race so far?
I’ll let the political pundits determine what the political impact is, but I can tell you that as a working mom, I understand the struggles that hard-working middle-class families go through. I understand how issues like contraception and the Hobby Lobby decision impact women’s lives. And as an advocate for cancer victims, I’ve seen people struggle with insurance companies and forced to choose between paying the bills or paying for their next round of chemo. These are issues that are very important to women and to families in New Jersey, and they will play a large role in my campaign.
What will you bring to Washington that your opponent can’t?
The perspective of a middle-class mother of two who has been serving the community for years. My opponent is a former insurance industry CEO who profited while his company was sued for shortchanging the victims of natural disasters, and he isn’t even from our district.
I am a long-time community leader, I’ve raised my family here, I understand the challenges facing middle-class families in our region, and I will be a voice for them in Congress.
"Don’t wait to be asked to run. You have insight, skills and experience that should be part of the political dialogue."'
If elected, what will be your #1 priority?
Giving the middle-class another ally in Congress. That means growing the economy and creating good-paying, middle-class jobs – like green energy manufacturing – making higher education more affordable and fighting back against the war on women. It also means closing tax loopholes for corporate special interests that ship American jobs overseas, and not rewarding Congressional inaction with taxpayer funded perks like first class airfare and luxury vehicles.
With the primary behind us, the race is heating up – what can we expect to see from your campaign this summer?
I’m going to continue meeting with voters and discussing the many issues that directly impact people’s lives. Folks here are still struggling to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy, jobs are hard to find, sky rocketing costs are putting college out of reach, and women’s health care is still under attack. I look forward to being out on the trail every day talking to voters about the issues facing our communities.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to young women looking to pursue a career in politics today?
Don't wait to be asked to run. You have insight, skills and experience that should be part of the political dialogue, so, if you are ready to run and the time is right for you, don't underestimate yourself and don't let others discourage you or hold you back.
Which women in politics inspire you?
I recall my mom telling me of suffragist, ERA author and New Jersey native, Alice Paul, from the time I was a young girl and she has been an inspiration to me ever since. Alice Paul stepped up, spoke out and took risks for what she believed in – that women deserved the right to vote. She is a true inspiration.
How will you address unequal pay for working women?
It’s 2014, and the fact that women still make only 77 for every dollar that men make is not only wrong, it’s embarrassing. I’ll work hard to ensure equal pay for equal work and other measures to help women gain equal economic footing. I believe that women’s health needs to be part of that discussion – access to life-saving cancer screenings and basic health care services like birth control are economic issues for women just as much as they are health care issues.
Wild Card! What was the last show you binge-watched (or hope to)?
I don't get to watch much TV, but "Boardwalk Empire" has been on my list to try for a while.
Check out msnbc’s Women of 2014 Twitter Trail to follow 2014 candidates to watch all in one place!