Melissa Harris Perry
updated 7/6/2013 6:45:32 PM ET 2013-07-06T22:45:32

Restrictions on abortion and voting rights are the two most high-profile instances of Republican-supported policies that end up having devastating effects on women, and it's impossible to ignore the fact that the governors signing these laws are white men.

Conservatives refuse to give up their fight to pass legislation that affects women’s health, bodies, and civil rights, and after an election year when women of color turned out in force for Democrats, electing more of them to state offices.

Restrictions on abortion and voting rights are the two most high-profile instances of Republican-supported policies that end up having devastating effects on women, and it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the governors signing these laws are white men. As host Melissa Harris-Perry and her guests discussed on Saturday’s show, combating these policies will require a push to recruit and promote women in politics. As Louisiana state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson said on the show, while only four of the state’s 39 senators are women, “we wonder why policies that come out of bodies like this are so horribly impactful for women.”

The situation in Louisiana is similar to that in North Carolina, a state that just passed a series of restrictions on abortion, cut social services medical benefits, and education funding; there are only eight women in the 50-member state Senate there.

The fact that the demographics of state governments aren’t more diverse doesn’t mean there are no representatives fighting against conservative policies. Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner has been a fierce opponent of efforts by Republican Governor John Kasich and his fellow conservatives to put into place some of the nation’s most draconian abortion restrictions.

In Wisconsin, Democratic state Sen. Lena Taylor has been a key player in the fight against right-wing attacks on unions, voting rights, and reproductive rights. During a speech she gave before voter ID restrictions passed in 2011, Taylor said, “This is voter suppression. It’s voter disenfranchisement. This is voter confusion. This is voter restriction. This is [a] voter discouragement bill. That’s what it is.”

MSNBC host Alex Wagner pointed to one possible reason why there are so few elected officials like Turner and Taylor: women too often wait to be asked to run instead of just doing it. How does that change? Start small and local.

“”We need more women elected to carry the torch,” Karen Carter Peterson told Harris-Perry. The wide variety of women’s experiences should also be an asset, Anthea Butler said, because “Republicans are going to put women out there that are a lot of show and no tell,” but the experiences of single mothers like Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis “are pluses, not minuses.”

See the second half of the discussion below.

Video: How to make the most of political power minority women wield

  1. Closed captioning of: How to make the most of political power minority women wield

    >>> welcome back. i'm melissa harris-perry, and we are live at the essence festival in new orleans. we've been talking about women of color and their increasing influence in the voting booth . in recent elections, more latinas, blacks, and asian-american women have been finding their ways to the polls. but that trend could be reversed by voter repression efforts underway in several states, efforts that just got a boost by the supreme court . these efforts, such as requiring certain photo i.d.s in order to vote disproportionately target women . women make up the greatest share of groups unlikely to have required voter identification . groups like the elderly, the poor, and the very young. women change their names more often than men when they marry or divorce, making it more of a challenge to carry i.d. or proof of citizenship in their current legal name . women also vote early. in louisiana , most early voters in 2012 , 57% of them, were women . so we're seeing these restrictions on what could be women 's ability to actually cast their vote. before we get to that, though, i do want to come back to this idea, when we are seeing wendy davis standing there filibustering and sort of the huge outpouring for her, my first thought is, can we turn texas blue? and if we can turn texas blue, who else goes blue, right? i mean, louisiana , we're right next door. is it possible for democratic parties to make real inroads into these republican states?

    >> without question. we are on a path. we in louisiana have a strategy to re-elect mary landrieu in 2014 and make sure we see nothing like governor jindal in 2015 .

    >> lord, lord, lord.

    >> when we have a gubernatorial election . and ewe are on that path. we are having phenomenal interest. and i think he's setting the stage, he's created a window for us to really energize folks, similar to what rick perry is doing next-door in texas . people are like, really? no, that's not what i'm trying to have, you know, for my children and my grandchildren, and they are fully, fully engaged. so we've got a plan, it's being executed, and there are a lot of people involved in it. but i need more people elected to carry the torch.

    >> no one's ever even asked me to run for office. no one's ever said, oh, you'd be a great state senator, a great city council person. is there an organization like essence could do? i'm imagining here at this incredible festival, what if there was a run, sister, run, that would help get people ready for running for office?

    >> i think that we have an incredible opportunity to put forth young women who have the potential to be the next governor, to be, you know, and what we have to do is create the structure and the process. so we need to create some mentoring. we need to create some funding, an emily's list for people who want to be able to run. essence magazine , i feel, really is a place where people can get that inspiration, read about those young ladies, how they're getting their start, and then that can inspire you to jump into the fray too. so, yeah, i think we have a real opportunity here.

    >> and, you know, so the inspiration always feels like it's part of it to me, but the other part of it is, man, it is ugly in the political world .

    >> absolutely.

    >> some people are like, are you going to run? run, absolutely not! because the level of ugliness and attack can be a deterrent obviously for women to showing up to run.

    >> exactly. i'm thinking about what happened with rick perry making that is notty comment about wendy, you know, you think she would know from her own background. i think that's what keeps women away from doing this. one of the things we have to do, just like we did souls to the polls in 2012 , we need women to the polls --

    >> uterus to the polls!

    >> exactly. you have to be able to push past this. these stories are not liabilities, they're assets to speak to other women , whatever your experience has been, whether you've had an abortion or you're a single parent, whatever your experiences are, you have to make them pluses and not minuses. republicans are going to put women out there that are a lot of show and no tell.

    >> i would also say, i mean, maybe this is somewhat controversial, is that women disproportionately need to be asked to run. and we've got to get rid of that. women need to stop waiting for the invitation. effectively, women need to push other women into the arena. and look, it is going to be hard. we live in a world where there are, you know, gender parody doesn't exist in a lot of arenas. women candidates are judged differently. it is tougher for women to run. there's a reason why women are not an equal share of our elected officials . that doesn't mean it's right, that doesn't mean it's easy, but it's, i mean, women have to be -- women have to motivate other women . and i think women also need to act as support networks for other women , which is also something we don't talk about.

    >> and alex, i want to ask you another thing on this. part of what's surprising to me is the republican party apparently wants to brand itself as the party against women . so why such a desire to stand out there at the forefront of this? what is the trade-off?

    >> i think this is about the long game and the short game. and the democratic party is a playing the long game. we have an incredibly broad coalition of women , old people, people of color , young people . that's the long game. the policy is that the democratic party is embracing our long-term policies. policies that the republican party are embracing, lack at what bobby jindal is doing on medicaid and expanding the medicaid rolls. is that a long-term strategy for the state of louisiana and poor people who need health care ? no, of course it's not. the short-term ideology, which is trumping the long-term goals of the party. and really, i think, ultimately results in the gop losing a generation.

    >> unless, of course, they can keep them suppressed at the polls, so that generation then can't come out, which is why we need a new voting rights act . we'll talk more about that a bit later in the show. thank you to vanessa kay bush. i appreciate you joining us and i'm always rooting to turn louisiana blue and fbj.

    >>> up next, the george zimmerman trial. is it a referendum on race for a new


Discussion comments