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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

The Good News Keeps Rolling In

I’ve always been an optimist – probably too much so – but decades of researching and writing history compel me to see the sunny side. We have historical high points and low points, but in the long term, the valleys rise to become mountains. This has been the case ever since we climbed out of the sea. Progress is not straight, but it is steady.

To be sure, we Americans are in a political valley right now, but a lot of voters already have come to understand the mistake they made by being indifferent in 2016. Women especially will find their way to the polls this fall and, I trust, will elect a different Congress. I think that Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan thinks that, too; otherwise, why would he have announced his resignation?

So, as to the recent good news in primary elections. First and probably foremost, is California’s top-two primary, where Democrats – including Senator Dianne Feinstein -- performed so strongly that neither she nor the Democratic nominee for governor, Gavin Newsom, should have any problem in November. California Democrats also are cheerfully pursuing the relatively few congressional seats that Republicans hold in the Golden State. And I’ll repeat what my California family repeats: that prosperous state has the fifth-largest economy in the world. And furthermore, these progressive people have the good sense to re-elect Feinstein, even though she is appreciably older than I. Hooray for them!

Other good news in other, more difficult areas. In a special election for a vacancy in the Missouri Senate, a Democratic woman won a traditionally GOP seat by an amazing 19 points. She pursued an aggressive strategy of tying her Republican opponent to the corrupt Republican governor there – a man much in the mode of Donald Trump, charged with both sex scandals and financial misfeasance. He resigned on June 1, just days before the primaries on June 5, but his arrogance in holding on to the office did a lot of damage to his Grand Old Party. (You know that’s what GOP stands for, don’t you? Ever since the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age. The most relevant part of that name today is “old.”)

More News You Probably Didn’t Catch on TV

In Montana, Democratic women won all of the primaries in which a woman ran. More than half of the total 130 contests that will be on the fall ballot there will have a woman as the Democratic nominee. Minnesota showed a similar pattern: again, more than half of the Democratic nominees are women. Another Heartland state is truly astounding: in Iowa, 86% of the women running in primaries won their party’s nominations. When you note that this includes Republican primaries, 86% truly is amazing. The “Me, Too” Movement is creating real change.

Finally, you may not love statistics in the way that I do, but please let these sink in. They will change often, of course, but according to statehouse expert Carolyn Fiddler, here’s where we are right now in candidacies for legislatures:

• 424 Republicans are retiring, vs. 207 Democrats. (Like Paul Ryan, these GOPers are leaving what they see as a sinking ship.)

• 153 Republicans are term-limited, vs. 82 Democrats. (That’s a perfect reward for the party that pushed term limits. In the words of our late glorious Congressman Sam Gibbons, we already had term limits: they’re called elections.)

• Because filing deadlines have passed in many states, we know that 596 Republicans will be returned to office without having to face the voters – but even more Democrats (718) will be reelected without opposition.

• Beyond that, Republicans are not bothering to field a candidate in 44% percent of Democratic-held seats, while the reverse is true of just 23% of GOP-held seats. In numerical terms, it’s even more dramatic: Democrats are running in 1,999 districts currently held by Republicans, while Republicans are doing so in just 896 races. That’s over twice as many Democrats as Republicans. The worm indeed has turned, and I predict that the Trump era soon will end.

More Hills to Climb

The corporate world is the slowest to catch on, even though women comprise a majority of their customers. My historian friend Gary Mormino clipped this from the New York Times in April, but only recently sent it to me. I had seen it back then in connection with Equal Pay Day, but I didn’t write about it and so am grateful for the reminder. Did you know that there almost as many Fortune 500 executives named “John” as all women in these top positions?

The paper very cleverly pictured the 23 female CEOs in companies that merit Fortune 500 status, alongside the photos of the 21 men whose first name was John. A sub-heading said that there were “even more Jameses.” They didn’t say how many guys named James, though, and I guess they didn’t feature them because that would have unbalanced their nice layout. They should have, though, as it would have created a picture even more akin to the facts. And in case you are wondering, none of the faces reflected any obvious ethnic minority. I guess Asians don’t name their sons “John,” but African-Americans do. No “Juan” either. How long until “Juanita?”

June 4th

Some journalists seem to be trying to jump to the head of the line for November 11, which will be the centennial of the armistice that ended what then was called “The Great War” and now is known as World War I. Yes, it was an armistice, not a treaty, as the Republican-dominated US Senate refused to ratify the treaty negotiated by Democratic president Woodrow Wilson. (Sound familiar?) So, without an agreed-upon settlement of the war’s end, Hitler found it easy to persuade Germans that they had been disrespected and the result was another war, truly worldwide and fatal to more than 50,000,000 people. Think on that.

Anyway, the June 4, 1918 date that hit my inbox was when the Allies stopped the invading Germans at France’s Marne River. Germany went backwards from then and gave up the ghost on November 11 – after revolts back home forced Kaiser Wilhelm to abdicate on November 6. The chronology seldom is taught that way: we tend to think we won the war, with just a little help from Great Britain, Canada, and France. Rarely does anyone mention that working-class people within Germany were the ones who took down their militaristic Prussian king.

So I started pondering June 4th, even though that date really isn’t much more significant than others in 1918. What makes June 4th meaningful for me occurred the next year, when the US Senate finally passed, by the required 2/3 majority, the proposed constitutional amendment that would grant women in all states the right to vote in all elections. It was a mess of “states’ rights” then: women in every western state except New Mexico had full voting rights; women in Midwestern and Eastern states could vote in some elections, but not others; while no Southern state offered any enfranchisement.

Well, I must correct myself. Our Florida legislators were so lazy that when the town of Fellsmere filed its incorporation papers in 1915, they didn’t notice that the charter gave women the right to vote in town elections. Other municipalities emulated this, and by the time that the 19th Amendment was added to the US Constitution, women voted in municipal elections in some two dozen Florida towns. The legislature, however, never granted the vote for the entire state, nor did it ratify the amendment that applied nationwide.

Back to June 4th. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, a Republican, led the US Senate, and he was adamantly opposed to enfranchising women. Feminists organized very well for the 1918 midterm elections (yes, lessons to be learned there for the 2018 midterms!), and they defeated the two senators from the Northeast who stood in the way. The House already had passed the amendment by the required two-thirds, but Lodge held up Senate passage from the decisive election in November 1918 until June 4, 1919. His action (or inaction) was deliberate, as most state legislative sessions would be over by then, and he hoped to curtail state ratifications.

The Constitution requires that three-quarters of state legislatures approve this two-thirds action of Congress, meaning both houses of each. With 48 states at the time, that meant campaigns in 96 legislative chambers, a tremendous job in an era when postal mail was the only real form of communication. Yet Carrie Chapman Catt managed this during the fourteen months between June 1919 and August 1920. She was a political genius who seldom gets the credit she deserves. She outwitted Lodge and his Republican buddies – the same guys who failed to ratify the treaty ending World War I – and won her cause. She tried hard to be non-partisan, but just as now, sometimes it comes down to just taking names and winning the fight. The intellectual fight, that is, and the fight for a principled democracy.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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