There has been a phrase thrown around to describe 2017 and 2018: “The Year of the Woman.” But every year is the year of the woman for the four female panelists at Get Out The Vote’s March 29 “Shattering Glass Ceilings” event, which was geared toward increasing voter turnout and amplifying the voices of women in politics.
A group of about 30 students attended the event where Miami Beach City Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, former Coral Gables Commissioner Jeannett Slesnick, former Miami Young Republicans President Jessica Fernandez and Miami-Dade County Deputy Mayor Alina T. Hudak were panelists.
Brianna Hernandez, president of GOTV, said the student organization wanted to “shed light” on the accomplishments women in the local community have made.
Hernandez, a senior double majoring in political science and history, said bringing local female leaders to UM was a great opportunity for students to get an inside look into their accomplishments.
“Our panelists discussed not only the ways in which they have ‘shattered ceilings’ but how the breaking of barriers has looked in their personal lives,” Hernandez said. “It meant so much to bring these women together.”
Each of the women reflected on what it’s like to be a woman in politics and encouraged students to vote in the upcoming midterm elections.
Gonzalez, also a professor of French and Spanish at Miami-Dade College, is one of the opponents running against former UM President Donna Shalala in the race for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat in Congress. Ros-Lehtinen represents Florida’s 27th Congressional district.
“My biggest obstacle is absolutely not men,” Gonzalez said. “It’s other women.”
Gonzalez is one of eight Democrats in total seeking the party nomination. Three of the eight are women.
Gonzalez, a single mother, is more than a little proud of her outsider status. She said she refuses to take money from political action committees and has publicly voiced her dislike of Citizens United, an organization that allows corporations and unions to make expenditures in connection with federal elections.
A teacher at heart, Gonzalez said she was motivated to run for office after Florida’s state government cut funding for state schools including Miami-Dade College.
She has fundraised roughly $289,000. Shalala’s campaign expenditures have not yet been released.
Polls indicate Gonzalez will have a steep hill to climb to beat Shalala, the former Clinton Foundation president, because Shalala has name recognition. According to a poll conducted by Bendixen & Amandi International, the polling firm advising Shalala’s campaign, 81 percent of respondents indicated they did not recognize Gonzalez, compared with 55 percent who said they did not recognize Shalala.
At the panel, Gonzalez, a Democrat, did not not aggressively attack Shalala, but she was critical of two actions Shalala took while president of UM: selling a stretch of land with endangered Pine Rocklands UM owned and her handling of Justice for Janitors, a nine-week strike in 2006 during which UM janitors refused to work because they insisted they were not being paid a livable wage.
Shalala condemned the protests at the time, but the university later enacted measures such as setting a university-wide minimum wage of $8 per hour.
“I try to practice a compassionate type of politics,” Gonzalez said.
While the upcoming Congressional race was discussed by the panel, the focus remained on the progress of women in politics.
Slesnick, a former public official who now operates a local magazine called Jeannett’s Journal, was critical of how few women President Donald Trump has appointed to federal positions.
Hudak joined in on the topic and said for women, getting to the top is an uphill battle that requires tenacity.
“Hard work and persistence and courage are principles that have to be very much a part of who you are,” Hudak said.
Hudak, a Cuban-American who immigrated to the United States at the age of 6, was the first female county manager in the history of Miami-Dade County. She is also a UM alumna and a member of the Iron Arrow Honor Society.
All four women spoke about the phenomenon of women not voting for other women. In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton received only 54 percent of the female vote, with Trump garnering more support among white women than her.
Gonzalez echoed the words of former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” she said.
Each member of the panel maintained a tone of positivity, speaking about how initiatives such as the #MeToo movement have helped improve conditions for women in the workplace. Fernandez, 33, was the youngest panelist. She said it’s been a lot easier to be a woman in the workforce now than it was for the other panelists. However, she said she encourages other women to find their voice and use it.
“Don’t be afraid to fail,” Fernandez said. “Don’t be afraid to be the lone voice.”