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'30 in 30': Women Candidates to Watch in 2014 -- Martha Coakley

Over the course of 30 days, will feature notable female candidates – Democrats and Republicans – running for national office in 2014.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley speaks to the media outside the US Supreme Court following oral arguments in the case of McCullen v. Coakley, dealing with a Massachusetts law imposing a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics for demonst
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley speaks to the media outside the US Supreme Court following oral arguments in the case of McCullen v. Coakley, dealing with a Massachusetts law imposing a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics for demonstrations and protests, in Washington, DC, January 15, 2014.

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 12!

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Race: Massachusetts Governor

Challenger: Republican Charlie Baker

Here’s the deal: Coakley -- the first woman to serve as Attorney General in Massachusetts -- released her first TV ad this month saying she "stands up for women and children victimized by violence and abuse" and will "build and economy that works for everyone." Coakley lost to then-State Sen. Scott Brown in a shocking upset in the 2010 U.S. Senate race. Coakley is currently on a “Moms for Martha” tour, where she is meeting with small groups of mothers to discuss issues that impact families.


How has being a woman in a field dominated by men impacted your race so far?

Since being in the first co-ed class to graduate from Williams College, I believe I have been an advocate for women and women’s issues. As the first female District Attorney, and then Attorney General, I fought to protect women from violence and abuse and ensure safe access to reproductive health care for all women. I served as a member of the Women’s Bar Association, where I worked for gender equality in the workplace and the justice system.

We know that, based on the recent Supreme Court decisions on the Buffer Zone and Hobby Lobby, the fight continues to protect women’s rights.

For those reasons, and many more, I launched a Women’s Leadership Council to serve as a voice for women across the Commonwealth, focusing on the health, safety and economic well-being of all women.

These issues are personal for me. Not all women are fortunate enough to have the same opportunities I have lived. As governor, I will work to make sure that women are represented on the bench and in the administration, and that women are at the table.  

What will you bring to the State House that your opponent can’t?

I have a proven record of standing up for fairness – helping 30,000 Massachusetts families avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes and protecting women and children from violence and abuse. I was the first Attorney General in the nation to challenge the Defense of Marriage Act, and am continuing to fight to protect safe access to reproductive health services for women. I have worked to address barriers to business growth – in health care and energy and understand the reforms we need to more efficiently and effectively provide social services and mental and behavioral health care. I know how to modernize government in an innovation economy.

As governor, I will work to create an economy on our terms – one that builds a more fair and prosperous Commonwealth for everyone.  The best way to do that, one that we know is proven to create opportunities for all, to level racial and income inequalities, is to invest in education and workforce training. To build upon our strengths in Massachusetts, close the achievement gap, and ensure that our children’s potential is not limited by his or her zip code. And to roll out the red carpet to businesses and cut red tape.

If elected, what will be your #1 priority?

My first priority will be to create a strong public education from pre-kindergarten through the opportunity of a college education for every resident that wants it.

Photo courtesy of Martha Coakley
Photo courtesy of Martha Coakley

That includes: providing universal pre-kindergarten to all children in Massachusetts, starting with the kids in our Gateway cities, learning from successful pilot and innovation schools and ensuring that a post-secondary education remains accessible by instituting a full-need financial aid policy at our community colleges, so that cost is no longer a barrier for any qualified student.

And my second priority will be to reduce the stigma around mental illness and increase access to mental and behavioral health services.

This is personal for me. Everywhere I go people tell me they too had a family member, friend or colleague who has suffered from mental illness. No one should suffer in silence any longer.

What can we expect to see from your campaign this summer?

I will be out everyday, knocking on doors and meeting with workers, families, and business owners about what we need to do to move our economy forward and level the playing field to create opportunity for all of our residents.  

Right now, I’m in the midst of my “Moms for Martha” tour, meeting with small groups of mothers about the issues that impact families.

Our campaign has knocked on almost 50,000 doors, and we will continue to have one-on-one conversations with voters across the Commonwealth about what is at stake in this election. We know that a strong grassroots campaign is not just the best way to win, it's the only way to win. 

"Equal pay for equal work is not just a women’s issue, it is a working families issue …"'

What’s one piece of advice you would give to young women looking to pursue a career in politics today?

Don’t be afraid to throw your hat in the ring and get involved.  And don’t be afraid to lose. Get involved in your government, work on campaigns and volunteer for candidates who you are passionate about.

Which women in politics inspire you?

I have always been inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton. And everyday I am inspired by the women in our Congressional Delegation who go to D.C. to fight for us: Elizabeth Warren, Niki Tsongas and Katherine Clark.

How will you address unequal pay for working women?

Equal pay for equal work is not just a women’s issue, it is a working families issue because women are the sole or primary breadwinners in 40% of households with children under the age of 18. Denying women the right to equal compensation makes it more difficult for these families to pay for basic necessities like food and shelter.

There is no single strategy that will close the wage gap, but we must remain committed to raising the minimum wage, because women make up 60% of the minimum wage workers in Massachusetts. We also need to provide earned sick time and improve family leave policies, because women are often caregivers for children or elderly parents and they shouldn’t have to risk losing wages or their jobs to stay home to care for their own health, the health of a loved one, or a new child. We need to provide a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) curriculum for boys and girls.  We can do more to encourage and support female entrepreneurs and business leaders by increasing access to job training, capital and affordable childcare and senior care. 

Martha Coakley, Steve Grossman, and Don Berwick will participate in a forum moderated by msnbc's Steve Kornacki, Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET at Stonehill College. Watch it live here.

Follow Martha Coakley @marthacoakley // Facebook // YouTube // campaign website

Check out msnbc’s Women of 2014 Twitter Trail to follow 2014 candidates to watch all in one place!