With the diminishing optimism of 1992's "Year of the Woman" and the dearth of women in elected office in this area more than ever, women need to run for political office. While men have been automatically expected to join the fray, the same has not held true for women. Yet the society needs the perspective of this 51 percent of the population developed from our different physical and society assigned roles.
Ruth Gadebusch is shown in this Wednesday, March 20, 2002 staff photo.
Ruth M. Gadebusch of Fresno is a former school board member.
In 1977 among 15 plus candidates for the three openings on the five member Fresno Unified board, I was one of two women considered credible. With one woman already on the board, the cry was Fresno might be ready for a second woman, but never a third! I joined another woman and a man in being elected. The ice was broken, with gender much less an issue today.
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The five members of that board birthed the desegregation demanded by the federal courts, endured a teacher strike and replaced a resigning superintendent, setting a new course for Fresno. Membership changed through the years, re-electing me three times, only to be recalled with two other women in a tumultuous time with several contentious issues converging.
That kind of departure is not easy to take, but my principle remains that it does no good to be there unless you do the right thing. The public seeing only the tip of the iceberg focused on the firing of the superintendent and the misdeeds of a subordinate superintendent. Even in hindsight my conviction is I did the right thing. Reinforcing the correctness of that dismissal, the man in question went from Fresno, then about 80,000 students, to a small district of hundreds in another state. A limited tenure led to another where he was subsequently criminally convicted of misappropriating pubic resources. Likewise, punishment of the subordinate was withheld until evidence of wrongdoing was developed, just as any one of us would want.
Shortly after our experience, Fresno's first female mayor was defeated. This was the impetus for reinvigorating the local chapter of the National Women's Political Caucus (multipartisan, multiracial) supporting females in public policy bodies; not anti-men, but offering the same help that men have received rather automatically. The group remains small, but has supported most of the women elected to public office in this area. Anyone believing that women have more to offer would do well to join NWPC in encouraging women. BWOPA, Black Women Organized for Political Action, seeks to overcome the same prejudices regarding race.
There is no better example that men outdistance us in planning a path to career political positions than our recent governor's primary. Two men, seemingly running forever as their birthright, consumed the attention. A woman with superb qualifications — without the same level of financial resources, the measurable necessity — was largely ignored. She refused corporate finances we say we deplore, but continue to let be a major factor in success. Time after time only the limited money was noted, becoming a self-fullfilling prophecy. Thus an opportunity to practice what we preach was lost.
Delaine Eastin served in local government, the state Legislature and statewide as superintendent of public instruction, but was ignored on all too many occasions. We claim to put education as our priority, but her experience, her commitment did not prevail. The men with much more shallow experience enjoyed the limelight of attention. This story is told not to deter running, but as a lesson to be learned.
To women I say: Plan! Learn the ins and outs of where your interest and expertise can best serve and bravely take action. Don't hesitate to request campaign donations. It is not personal, but benefits the community by having you in office. If you don't get elected the first time, try, try again.
Expect controversy both in the campaign and subsequent service. Recognize the impossibility of pleasing everyone. You can only deal with information available at the time. Whatever misinterpretations develop regarding your service so long as you know you, making decisions on available information, acted with the best of your ability given the circumstances, you can keep your integrity and proudly serve.
There will be times of stress and strain on you and your family, but the satisfaction of serving the community with your integrity intact is what matters. Now is the time to prepare for the next step. Women, courageously step up. The community needs you.
Ruth Gadebusch is a Fresno resident and former member of the Fresno Unified school board.