Men Should Think Twice When Entering a Race With Strong Women Candidates Already—Starting With Adam Schiff

Rep. Katie Porter (left) at an election night watch party on Nov. 8, 2022 in Costa Mesa, Calif. Porter has said she will run for the Senate spot that may be vacated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (right). (Apu Gomes and Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

“The Representative Assembly, should be an exact Portrait, in Miniature, of the People at large.” These were the words of President John Adams, one of the architects of our American political system. Contemporary leaders would do well to remember this directive.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has not yet announced her retirement, but that hasn’t stopped fellow Democrats from vying for her seat. After building a massive war chest over the past few years, Rep. Adam Schiff has announced his candidacy. But just because he can run doesn’t mean he should.

Feinstein was elected to her Senate seat in 1992, representing California alongside Sen. Barbara Boxer (D). When Boxer did not run for reelection in 2016, her retirement made way for Kamala Harris to serve as senator—until being sworn in as the United States’s first female vice president in 2021. This is an example of what happens when women hold the door open for other women.

However, when Harris became vice president, Governor Gavin Newsom (D) appointed a man to serve out the remainder of her term, passing over a field of well-qualified women. Despite the inroads that have been made over the last century, the number of Black women currently serving in the Senate stands at zero.

Should Feinstein step down in 2024, a woman should take her place. We call on Representative Schiff and any other men who might consider running for the seat to step aside and support women candidates instead.

In the 118th Congress, only 25 percent of senators are women, and only 3 percent are women of color, despite the U.S. population being over 50 percent female. When there is such a large discrepancy between the gender balance of America and the gender balance of our elected leaders, we cannot claim to have a truly representative democracy. In light of recent decisions that will impact women’s lives, it is essential that we build a democracy where women are fully represented.

Other countries have established gender quotas and replacement mandates … In the absence of such rules, it falls to men to know when to sit down, and to set personal ambition aside for the sake of strengthening our democracy. 

Rep. Adam Schiff speaks at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 23, 2022, joined by fellow Democrats from California: Eric Swalwell, Barbara Lee and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. trails behind our democratic allies when it comes to gender balance in government, coming in 70th in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s most recent data on women’s parliamentary representation. Other countries have established gender quotas and replacement mandates to advance gender balance in government. In the absence of such rules, it falls to men to know when to sit down, and to set personal ambition aside for the sake of strengthening our democracy. 

As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” This is our demand. Let us advance women’s representation in our Senate and our government at large, and not slide backwards. Gender parity is a fight that is far from won, and achieving it in our lifetimes will require more than incremental progress. Indeed, the fight for true democracy—a democracy in which every voice is heard, and where the faces of our leaders reflect the faces of our nation—will require courageous and decisive action.

Step aside, Congressman Schiff, and let the women lead.

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Cynthia Richie Terrell is the founder and executive director of RepresentWomen and a founding board member of the ReflectUS coalition of non-partisan women’s representation organizations. Terrell is an outspoken advocate for innovative rules and systems reforms to advance women’s representation and leadership in the United States. Terrell and her husband Rob Richie helped to found FairVote—a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice and a truly representative democracy. Terrell has worked on projects related to women's representation, voting system reform and democracy in the United States and abroad.