When women are not heard
By Jean Godden
One answer to the rage-fueled backlash over sexual-abuse reports is remembering the example set by Washington's own Sen. Patty Murray. Her career spans the years between the Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford hearings.
Patty Murray first entered politics in the 1980s. She was a Shoreline School Board member when she traveled in Olympia to oppose cuts in the preschool budget. When told by a state senator that she wouldn't succeed because she was a mere "mom in tennis shoes," she ran for state senate and beat a two-term incumbent.
In October, 1991, State Senator Murray, like many of us, watched the Senate hearings that ridiculed Anita Hill's charges against Clarence Thomas. Outrage over the Senate's old-boy treatment of Hill convinced Murray to do the almost unthinkable: resolve to run in the next year's Democratic primary against Washington's Senator Brock Adams.
Patty's action was incredibly brave, even though Adams, a popular politician (former UW student body president), was tainted, accused of sexual assault by his aide Kari Tupper. But Patty was a little known first-term state senator from Shoreline. She was barely known regionally, much less statewide.
At that time, I was working as a Seattle Times columnist and ran into Patty at a civic event. You have to remember that Patty is petite, barely five feet tall and, when I talked to her, she was dwarfed by the crowd. But she affirmed that she was indeed running. She had determination written across her face, saying that, if women had been on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hill would have been believed.
Unknown to Patty when she filed, four Seattle Times reporters had been working behind the scenes on the Brock Adams' story. They talked to eight women who said they, too, had been molested. The women insisted on remaining anonymous. But they signed statements saying that, yes, they would go public should Senator Adams sue over a Times report.
The Adams abuse story came out early in 1992 and, suddenly, Patty wasn't the only one interested in the seat. Would Adams resign before his term ended? Top Democrats, politicos like Rep. Norm Dicks, former Rep. Mike Lowry and even Gov. Booth Gardner, were suggested as a possible interim appointment. In March, 1992, Adams dropped his reelection bid but opted to serve the rest of his term.
Meanwhile, Patty was no longer alone in the U. S. Senate race. She quickly had Democratic opponents, including former Rep. Don Bonker, whom she bested in the primary. Then on the Republican side, she faced Rep. Rod Chandler, a former TV newsman. Odds were not in Patty's favor.
Yet Patty won her first election by 8 percentage points, defying predictions. The mom in tennis shoes was off to the other Washington. She entered a chamber dominated by old white guys, but managed to make her way onto important committees like Appropriations.
She has never turned back and has succeeded through five terms facing tough opponents: conservative darling Linda Smith, George Nethercutt Jr. who unseated House Speaker Tom Foley, frequent flyer Dino Rossi and then-Republican moderate Chris Vance.
Although a ranking member and an assistant minority leader, Patty has been called "the senator you never hear about" by Eastern papers. But she is well known in her home state, where she is celebrated as "a work horse, not a show horse." Need a federal appropriation for the South Park Bridge? Patty will secure it. Want help for veterans or the environment? Patty is there. She is a leader on health and education issues and has partnered with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski on a bill to provide care to sexual assault survivors.
My thoughts focused on Patty when the 11 GOP men on the Senate Judiciary Committee cowered behind a woman prosecutor rather than question Dr. Ford. Afterwards, Patty was interviewed on national news as one of two women senators (along with Dianne Feinstein) elected in response to the Anita Hill debacle.
I even looked to my bookcase where I preserve a pair of Patty Murray tennis shoes that she donated to a Democratic Party auction. Patty still has an understated "mom in tennis shoes" persona. But she sprints through Congress.
And now that the male chauvinists are celebrating a Pyrrhic victory, I know that more Patty Murrays will be elected. And I know that the #MeToo movement, is still alive. In his angry "poor me" tirade, Brett Kavanaugh talked about sowing the whirlwind. I suspect he has his targets backwards.
Well said. Thank you.
I'm not a suburban housewife who can afford to shuttle her children to soccer practice wearing expensive tennis shoes. I'm not even a white upper middle class Liberal who identifies closely with the spirit of the #MeToo movement. I'm a voter who's closely watched how this nation has flirted with and now has become a fascist nation. I'm a voter who's seen more corruption in the past 20 years than in her entire lifetime. I'm a voter who will more than likely have to leave this country because she is part of an ethnic and religious minority group for whom there are zero guarantees of personal safety and civil liberties.