This article was originally published in the ABA Journal
Ellen Rosenblum, the first woman to serve as attorney general for Oregon, has a message for all women considering a run for office: Don't overthink it.
“When the thought hits you, go for it,” Rosenblum said. “Please run. We need you.”
Rosenblum spoke Friday during “Challenges for Women in Politics: Both Personal and Professional,” a luncheon hosted by the Canadian Bar Association of British Columbia’s Women Lawyers Forum during the 2018 ABA Midyear Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia. She was joined by the former attorney general and minister of justice for British Columbia, Suzanne Anton.
“There’s sort of a cliché that there’s too many lawyers in politics,” Anton told the sold-out crowd. “I don’t know where that cliché came from, because it’s actually not true. There are not enough lawyers in politics.”
The focus of the panel discussion at the luncheon, which was co-sponsored by the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations and the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, was on the need for better representation for women in politics, and the practicalities of running for office.
Anton says she had never considered a political career earlier in life. She’d been a math teacher and a prosecutor but took time off to raise her children. Then she became involved in community sports in Vancouver. It led her to a run for the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, and ultimately, to being elected as a member in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. From there, she was appointed attorney general and minister of justice, a position she held until 2017.
“We need more lawyers in politics,” Anton said. “Lawyers have a number of attributes—good training, good understanding of the law, good ability to communicate with people, a fairly thick skin, used to a bit of the rough-and-tumble of life—and of all of those things, a very good understanding of how people work. Lawyers like people and they like issues. And if you like those two things, you make a good politician.”
For Rosenblum, a passion for consumer protection dating back to law school was the force that drove her into politics. After working as a prosecutor, she ran in Oregon’s nonpartisan judicial elections, serving on the Multnomah County Circuit Court and then the Oregon Court of Appeals. In 2012, she was appointed attorney general of Oregon, and has won two subsequent elections to retain that position.
“I learned that the aspects of politics that some people actually fear—fundraising, speaking out on issues—turn out to be aspects that I actually enjoy,” Rosenblum said.
Both women stressed the need for candidates to have strong support systems, both personally and professionally. “You do need your own back room,” said Anton. “They talk about the back room in politics; you need to have those people behind you who understand politics, and the best way to become their friends, the best way to get to know them, is to work on a campaign with them.”
Rosenblum and Anton agreed that for women considering whether to run for office, participating in someone else’s campaign could be extremely helpful.
“When you don’t know much about politics, but you’re kind of interested, join a campaign,” Anton said. “There are always elections underway. So figure out who you want to support, and go work in their office. Make phone calls, knock on doors, do what you can to help them. That gets you immersed in politics.”
“What we need to keep in mind is, not only do we need women running for political office, women judges, women AGs—we only have nine women AGs in the whole country—but we need women in other positions of power, like editorial boards,” said Rosenblum. “So just think about that.”
“How about president?” interjected the moderator, Jeanne Marie Clavere, a board member of the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations.
“That would be great,” Rosenblum said to the laughter from the crowd.
“We really need to encourage women lawyers to run at all levels,” she went on. “In my state, I’m really encouraging women to run for district attorney. We have 36 counties, they’re all elected, and if you’re a district attorney, then you have those credentials in your back pocket to run for attorney general. I’m happy to be first, but I don’t want to be last.”