Meet Patricia Hart, Alumna and Activist

Patricia Hart is a graduate of EKU’s class of 2012. She works as a project director at FairVote, The Center for Voting and Democracy, a DC-based organization that seeks to improve the democratic process in the United States through structural reforms. Patricia runs two programs: Representation 2020 and Promote Our Vote. Representation 2020 is working to build a national coalition of organizations and individuals who support measures that will allow women to achieve parity in elected office. Promote Our Vote is working with localities to advance local voting rights.

Patricia answered our questions about how her experiences at Eastern have shaped her early patriciacareer, and she shared her perspective on women’s representation in the United States.

 

What experiences from your time at Eastern do you think of as the most formative now that you’ve graduated?

Eastern’s Honors Program and Department of Government had a huge impact on me; the classes were unique and challenging and the professors were very involved with their students. One of my professors from the government department, Joe Gershtenson, mentioned to me the opportunity to do an internship in DC through the Washington Center. Going to DC for a semester with the Washington Center made me realize that I needed to make a stronger connection at home and that there were issues I should become involved in my own community.  When I got back to EKU, that’s when I became more involved on campus. I led Feminist for Change, EKU Democrats, and The Alphabet Center – an LGBT resource center – and participated in other activities that came to define my student experience.

 

Can you describe how your involvement as a student has impacted your career?

My involvement in political activism on Eastern’s campus led to what I do now. My junior year, some friends from the Alphabet Center and I worked to advance a Fairness Ordinance in Richmond. Currently, LGBT members of the Richmond community can be fired, evicted, and kicked out of public places due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. We became obsessed with fixing that.

In response to the city council’s refusal to protect members of the community from discrimination, we hosted an event to advocate the ordinance. We called it Fairness Over Main. It was a huge success. We got 25 businesses just on Main Street to sign on to a petition in support of the ordinance. And nearly 500 people attended the event, which got news coverage. The Paddy Wagon even created a special shot for the event: the “5 to 10 Shot.” It was named after a councilor’s statement that the policy was good but he couldn’t vote for it because Richmond was not ready; it would take another 5 to 10 years.

After the event my friends and I were struck with insight. We thought, “Why can’t we do this forever?” And I realized that, hey, I could work on projects that I care about forever. I can make a job out of it.

 

At FairVote, you work on voting and representation issues. Why do you think that representation of women in government is important for Kentucky?

The importance of having women leaders became clear to me at Eastern when I was running a campaign to promote women’s health. One of the issues we focused on was the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. We met with elected officials to lobby making the vaccine and HPV screening more available. One of the officeholders we spoke to said the issue had become political because many state legislators saw the vaccine as a gateway to promiscuity for young women. And I thought, “We ‘re punishing promiscuity with cervical cancer now?” This seemed like archaic rationale and poor logic to base policy upon, as more than 50% of sexually active members of the population become infected with some strain of HPV.

Then I looked at the numbers: men hold 82% of the seats in Kentucky’s legislature. At one time, Kentucky was ranked last of all 50 states for women’s representation in its legislature. We’re no longer last, but we have no female representatives in our national delegation, nor have we ever had a female governor. Currently, we have only one female statewide elected executive, Alison Lundergan-Grimes.  Women are the majority of the population at 51%, but we are dramatically underrepresented at every level of government.

The women’s health campaign made me realize that one very practical reason why we need women in these positions because women have a different set of experiences. We are exclusively affected be certain policy like the lack of preventative healthcare that could save women with cervical cancer money, time, energy and in some cases their lives. Personally, I’d prefer to have a women’s vote when it comes to sensitive issues faced at the gynecologist’s office. Without women leaders, our state’s pool of perspective, experience, and talent is smaller than it otherwise would be.

 

We see young women are taking on top leadership roles as students at the University level, so why don’t you think that’s translated into seeing more women in elected positions?

Early research on the issue suggested that gender equality in the eligibility pool – fields that most typically lead to candidacy, like law and business – would lead to gender parity in government. But as more women have entered those fields, the gender gap has remained. The fact of the matter is that women are far less likely to think about running for elected office, which is why we need to recruit, support and fund female candidates.

The most effective recruiters of female candidates are officeholders and political parties. However, these political actors are not doing all they can. In fact, one-third of female state representatives report being actively discouraged from running by either an officeholder or their political party. Women grow up without seeing as many women in positions of power, and then they get discouraged from entering the pipeline by those who are already in the political system. So, it’s an issue of recruitment, and it’s an issue of creating urgency within our political system to advance women candidacies.

 

What do you think encourages women to take on leadership at the national level?

A series of reforms need to take place: political parties should step up, legislative practices and policies should advance women to leadership positions and our electoral system needs to be more competitive, as our incumbency rate is over 90 percent, and in congress 82 percent of those incumbents are men – the vast majority are white men. At the same time, we need to bridge the gap in political ambition through efficacy programs.

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Categories: Alumni Spotlight

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