Gillibrand's message for female candidates


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In the last few months, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has become one of the most prominent political faces of the #MeToo movement. Her candor and willingness to be out front has also made her a lightning rod.

This week on the broadcast, the junior senator from New York talks with Sharyn Alfonsi about her decision to call out members of her own party, including former President Bill Clinton and Senator Al Franken, whom she urged to resign in December.

Gillibrand also tells 60 Minutes that Congress is still an “old boys club,” in part because women are hesitant to run. “I think it’s hard to run for office,” she says on the broadcast. “You know, a lot of women don’t like the negative campaigning. They don’t like the aggressiveness of it.”

In the clip above, she also says there are other reasons why women might decide against stepping into the political fray. A lot of women, she says, want to protect their families from the “rough and tumble” aspect of politics—especially when there are other ways to serve their country.

“So if you have a choice between serving in a local charity or being in some kind of social services role, those are often much more attractive because you can still help people,” she says, “but you don’t have to go through the difficulty of running for office.”

That’s why she offers this advice to prospective candidates: If you don’t fight for what you want, no one else will.

“The reason you have to run is because the things you care about are not being represented right now,” she says. “The things you want to change aren’t being worked on and aren’t going to change.”

Gillibrand knows first-hand about the negative campaigning that some women might fear. In the clip above, she talks with Alfonsi about her 2008 Congressional re-election campaign. She was running against longtime New York Republican party leader Sandy Treadwell, a self-funded candidate with a large war chest to spend on campaign ads, including many negative ones.

Gillibrand decided to just ignore them.  

“We turned off the TV for three months before the elections—turned off the TV,” she says.

Ignoring the negativity is something Gillibrand says she learned from her grandmother, Polly Noonan, who was a back-room power broker for the Albany Democratic party.

“Politics is rough and tumble, and you just don’t listen to that part,” Gillibrand says. “That it’s like if you’re playing a sport, the job of the other team is to hit you as hard as they can.”

After two years in Congress, Gillibrand was appointed in 2009 to fill the senate seat vacated when Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State. At the time, she worried the women’s movement had ended.

“I was worried the women’s movement was dead or dying because the percentage of women actually went down in the House of Representatives,” she says in the clip above. “We had voted on an anti-choice bill on the House floor with a Democratic speaker and Democratic president. And there wasn’t an outcry. I felt like women’s voices weren’t being heard.”

But now, she says, in response to Donald Trump winning the election, the Women’s March has reignited the cause. The movement to speak out even helped in the Democrats’ successful fight against repealing the Affordable Care Act, Gillibrand says.

“It’s a revolution,” she says, “and it’s incredibly powerful.”

But why, Alfonsi asks Gillibrand in the clip above, have the Democrats struggled with appealing to white middle-class voters?

“If the question you’re asking is why did President Trump win, I have a theory,” Gillibrand answers. “President Trump ran on a couple of Democratic messages. He just ran on them well. His first message really was, ‘The system’s rigged.’ And the system is rigged. That was a message that was our message.”

“But,” Alfonsi points out, “he won with it.”

“I got it. He stole our message,” Gillibrand says. “Did he mean it? Has he done anything to reward work in this country? Has he done anything to change the shift away from just share value and towards investing in employees? No.”

He does change the conversation, Alfonsi says, every time he tweets. Is the Democrats’ message getting lost in the noise?

“Well, that’s my job,” Gillibrand says. “I have to speak out to my constituents to prove to them that I’m working for them.”

The videos above were edited by Will Croxton. 



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