We spoke to Royce Brooks, the executive director of Annie’s List, earlier this week. Below is an edited conversation for length and clarity. Photo: Casey Chapman Ross.
Texas Signal: I wanted to talk generally about the concept of women in politics in Texas. That’s sort of what you guys focus on, and you’re very good at it. If you were to assess now, sort of the state of women in elected office or politics in the state – what would you say are some major barriers, what are some major successes?
Royce Brooks: So I would say that we are really at an incredible inflection point for women in political spaces in Texas. Last cycle in 2018, we saw really records being broken in terms of both the numbers of women being elected to office here in Texas and also the numbers of women raising their hands to step up and become engaged politically, many for sort of the first time in a real substantive way. Annie’s List as an organization both endorsed a record number of women last cycle, we have 37 women on the ballot all across the state. We also, our candidates won at a record rate. We actually – 31 of those women won their races including every Annie’s List endorsed incumbent on the ballot. We also trained more than a thousand women through our trainings to think about running for office or think about taking that next step. Which by far broke any records from previous cycles. So, incredibly excited with the progress we have made, but we still have a long way to go. States like Nevada have, in fact, achieved majority women representation in their state legislatures. Texas is far from that, but my favorite statistic from this past legislative session, is that the Texas house freshman class had more Democratic women than Republican men. So it’s a great start.
TS: Looking forward to 2020, what’s the plan to get more women involved not just in running for office but in the political process? Next year is a big year, especially since we’re a swing state.
RB: Absolutely. Well, and thank you for calling us a swing state. It feels absolutely good. I think that at the national level you see an incredible number of just remarkably talented women running for president right now. Women, that other women can look at and that even young girls can look at and see themselves and hear their voices represented, which I think is an amazing circumstance and something that has not happened at this level in my lifetime, certainly. Here in Texas, for Annie’s List, our top political priority for the cycle is taking a run at the possibility of flipping party control, of the state house. And we fully expect the Democratic women to be leading the way on that as candidates and as campaign staff as well. And in fact, we are also ramping up our campaign staff training. And I know that a lot of our allies are doing that as well, and one of our key priorities with that is to make sure that we are training a diverse cohort of staff that looks like Texas and that includes representing women in those staff trainings as women are the majority of Texans.
TS: I would think that part of the training is how candidates [interact with the] media, the press. And that’s part and parcel of any campaign. In terms of sexism in the media, what to do about it?”
RB: I think that there is sexism in the media, but I think that there is sexism in society. I think that you know, the media standards are reflective of the larger public in a lot of ways. We do offer media training to our endorsed candidates and one of the things that we know is that women are held to different standards as candidates and as elected leaders than men are. Men are meant to meet the bar of sort of being credible. Women are asked to both meet the bar of being credible and likable. And those bars are set higher on both of those strides than for men. And so one of the things that we talk about a lot in the trainings that we do for women is what they should be prepared for. You know, it’s tough. And often it’s not fair, but we don’t do women a service as candidates if we don’t talk about kind of what it might really look like…
TS: Are you guys going to play in the presidential race, or are you just focused on the Texas House?
RB: So Annie’s List does not engage in federal races. We engage in statewide/state legislative and local races. We frankly think that being that close to the ground allows us to have a greater impact for daily’s lives. But we certainly are interested in the fact that plenty of these national campaigns, national organizations, seemed to have finally found Texas on the map. You know there are not only presidential candidates here all the time but a lot of national groups are now moving in and really looking into doing work in Texas this cycle.
TS: What drives you?
RB: What drives me? The chance to make a better Texas. I’m from here, my family is from here. I’m a sixth generation Texan. Right? This is my home. And I care about what happens here. And I care about the lives of people I know, people I grew up with. So having the opportunity to potentially impact the communities I care about and the people I care about for the better, it’s a privilege and it drives me every day.