WIREd for change

Menlo Park woman heads group committed to expanding women's representation in government office

"I'm not qualified." That's the initial response of 99 percent of women when they are approached about the possibility of running for public office, according to Carol Mayer Marshall, a Menlo Park resident who knows that those words are often fiction, not fact.

Marshall, 83, is so convinced that many women are not only qualified to hold public office but are needed in positions of political power that in 2016, she founded an organization to help women get there.

Marshall founded WIRE – Women who Identify, Recruit, and Elect – the summer before the presidential election as a mechanism to help women get appointed or elected to public office in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. According to its website, WIRE for Women is a nonpartisan volunteer-based organization that identifies and recruits qualified female candidates.

Marshall was raised in a politically active family and took an interest in politics from a young age. She volunteered to stuff envelopes for Sen. Robert Taft's 1947 presidential campaign at the age of 12, and hasn't stopped being involved in politics since.

Marshall attended Mount Holyoke College for two years as a political science major, and interned on Capitol Hill during her second summer of college. She completed her political science degree at George Washington University and immediately went to work for the Republican National Committee as a researcher during Nixon's presidential campaign.

She was the first woman to hold a number of key government agency positions: a stint as Congressional Relations director; an appointment by President Nixon, with Senate confirmation, as director of VISTA, considered the domestic Peace Corps; and an appointment by President G.H.W. Bush, with Senate confirmation, as superintendent of the San Francisco Mint, among others.

"Feminists Who Changed America, 1963-1975" – a 2006 book by Barbara J. Love that documents key feminists who ignited the "second wave" women's movement – cited Marshall for being the first woman at numerous high-ranking government jobs.

During the Watergate era that shook the political world, Marshall decided to leave Washington, D.C., and attend law school at the University of California, Berkeley. She has remained in the Bay Area since, and early on she practiced law for about a year at Washburn and Kemp.

After former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lost her bid for the White House in 2016, a number of political organizations that try to get more women in government positions were abandoning their mission, and many people were sad and angry at the system, Marshall said.

"Everyone was protesting and resisting," she said. "But I wanted to do something positive."

According to the 2017 statistics from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, women hold 21 percent of governmental positions at the local, state and national levels while making up more than 50 percent of the population.

WIRE is unusual in the field of political organizations supporting women in that it does not have an issue-based litmus test, nor does it endorse candidates or provide funding, according to its website. Rather, it mentors women in whatever area they need support in, whether it be fundraising or campaign strategy. By not endorsing candidates and being a nonpartisan organization, WIRE can help women regardless of their political leanings.

WIRE has a board of directors whose members include Marshall; Wynee Segal Dubuvoy of Menlo Park, who serves as treasurer; acting president Allene Zanger of Half Moon Bay; secretary IdaRose Sylvester of Mountain View; and Jessica Moore.

The organization, which has about 50 active volunteers, has so far succeeded in helping three local women get appointed to public office positions, according to Marshall. The election in November will reveal the results of WIRE's work in its first election cycle, so the organization will have a chance to see how the women its volunteers have mentored do.

Taking the plunge

One of the three women WIRE has supported is Lauren Segal, who was appointed to the Palo Alto Utilities Advisory Commission in May 2017. Segal was hesitant to apply for the position, but after attending a WIRE meeting, she took the plunge.

"I was unsure if I was going to run, but the WIRE meeting gave me the support and confidence I needed to take a step forward," she said.

Segal noted that women need to be repeatedly encouraged to seek public office, and WIRE helps in this area as well. According to Marshall, when a woman is recruited to seek a public office or position, "it takes her on average two to four years to decide to run – while for a man, it takes him on average two weeks."

Captain Cormack: From volunteer to candidate

When a prospective candidate comes to WIRE in search of mentoring, the organization connects her with a volunteer who has a background in the area she needs help in.

Alison Cormack, a founding member of WIRE and now a candidate for Palo Alto City Council, volunteers to help women seeking fundraising skills. "I usually ask her some questions, find out what her fundraising goal is, and then offer different solutions and strategies so that she can raise the amount of money she needs," she said.

Cormack also serves as one of WIRE's city captains for the Palo Alto section. WIRE's vision is to have a captain or co-captains for every city in the two counties it serves.

The role of a city captain is, among other things, to raise the awareness of her designated community of the reasons it's important to have more women in local government. To accomplish this, city captains try to identify qualified women, and recruit them to run for office. They also recruit volunteers.

"The job of a city captain is to be WIRE in their community," Marshall said.

Marshall said she believes that women govern differently from men. For example, women are less partisan than men, which means that women work across the aisle more than their male counterparts, she said.

In addition to the personal mentorship the organization offers, women use WIRE for networking purposes. Laura Parmer-Lohan, a candidate for San Carlos City Council, saw WIRE as an opportunity to connect with women who have politically diverse backgrounds and experiences.

"The depth of experience in this group of women is incredible," she said. "It's why the organization works."

Instead of using WIRE for help in a specific area, Parmer-Lohan used the organization's emphasis on person-to-person relationships to learn from women who have been involved in political campaigns or who ran for office themselves.

In an interview with The Almanac, Parmer-Lohan said that the encouragement and support from the WIRE network is one of the reasons she decided to run.

WIRE will continue its work in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties because its leaders and supporters believe that women need to be more represented in public office, and that starts at the local level, according to Marshall.

"I think we are really onto something with WIRE," Marshall said.

WIRE isn't the only civic and community-oriented organization Marshall devotes her time and energy to. She has served on a number of local community and political boards. She founded a salon for women in the area who meet once a month to discuss national and international issues.

She also serves on the board of Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, is chair emeritus of the NARAL Leadership Council, was on the national NARAL board, and has served on the local and state boards of Planned Parenthood, according to WIRE's website.

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