- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Women — especially blacks and Hispanics — helped Democrats win power this month, and they are determined to ensure their issues aren’t neglected, women’s rights leaders said yesterday.

The airwaves may be filled with “white males gloating about how they won this election,” but “without African Americans, Latinos and women,” there would have been no victory, said E. Faye Williams, president of the National Congress of Black Women.

Top legislative items include raising the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, providing “fair pay” for women and broadening access to emergency contraception, Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), said at a National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) press conference yesterday.

In state after state, women’s votes pushed Democrats over the top, said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, citing data from a new election analysis from Lake Research Partners for Ms. magazine and Women Donors Network.

Ms. Smeal, publisher of Ms. magazine, said the victories of Sens.-elect James H. Webb Jr. in Virginia, Jon Tester in Montana and Claire McCaskill in Missouri were particularly satisfying.

Olga Vives, NOW executive vice president, said Hispanic voters, angry over a “hatred-filled approach” to immigration policy, helped chase out one Republican senator and at least three Republican congressmen, and forced another Republican congressman into a runoff race. The Hispanic vote was “disastrous” to Republicans, she said.

After 12 years of neglect under Republican rule, the women’s right’s agenda is “broad and long,” said Ms. Gandy.

But initial legislative plans from putative congressional leaders, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, “bode well for women, if they are not blocked by Bush allies still stung by the voters’ repudiation of their agenda,” she said.

The new Congress should see a resurgence of power from the women’s congressional caucus, said NCWO leader Martha Burk. The 40-member “blue dog” conservative Democrat caucus may be attracting press coverage as a new power broker, but that distinction more rightly belongs to the women’s caucus, which has at least 70 members, said pollster Denise Baer, president of Strategic Research Concepts.

A final key goal is to keep close ties with Mrs. Pelosi.

“People are going to be jockeying so much for their own interests and their own agendas — she’s going to be a target,” said Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, a longtime civil rights activist.

She “needs a point person” whose sole job is to “listen to what’s going on in the real world” and get back to people, she said. “We are all sophisticated. We know [Mrs. Pelosi] can’t come to the phone. But somebody’s got to be the message carrier.”

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