Stephanie Donner gave me the stink eye.
Hundreds of people gathered in the ballroom-sized lobby of the History Colorado museum to launch the book "When Women Vote" by two of my favorite folks. Donner was Gov. John Hickenlooper’s chief legal counsel. She's the executive director of the Emily Griffith Technical College and a world-class game-changer, who I admire a lot. Amber McReynolds was the Denver city elections director before she became the CEO of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Vote at Home Institute. She's wicked smart and super kind. She told me once that the latter is as important as the former, because the world needs more love.
They asked for questions from the room full of smart, accomplished women, and my hand shot up first, verbally elbowing my way to the front. Women seem to know when mansplaining is about to unfurl.
For women to lead, enough voters have to follow.
"Why's it important for women to vote?" I said loud enough to be heard in the back. "Shouldn't everybody vote?"
Donner cut her eyes sideways. I knew it was bad when she called me "Mr. Bunch."
"The premise of our book is not to inform women to vote. It's what actually happens when women vote," she said to applause.
What happens is a fuller, fairer democracy. The question is finding a way to get there, because what we're doing is not working. McReynolds told the story to the audience about how her dad used to do handstands and ask the kids to count to see how long he could hold it. She asked him why he did that.
"And he said, 'Well, don't you want to learn how to look at the world differently?'" she recalled.
The book does that. Think women have equality? They make up 24% of Congress, 21% of big city mayors and 18% of governors, according to book.
Flip to almost any page, and there's something you probably didn't know. Buy this book for teenagers and tell them to see the world differently. It lays out the issues in simple language: fair maps, voter registration, ballot-delivery options and primary election reform, among them. Women tend to be better collaborators, according to research.
Republicans can ill afford to lose more ground with suburban moms and ambitious millennial women.
"Research has found that women interrupt less but are interrupted more," the book reports.
For 15 bucks, it's a good investment. Get your copy on Amazon by clicking here.
Rep. Leslie Herod, a Democrat from Denver, introduced Donner and McReynolds at the state history museum. That was a good choice.
Herod makes history and passes laws not by swinging around her indignation, but by working with her opponents on common ground. Her unlikely partner is Republican Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs, with whom she has nothing outwardly in common.
Bridging differences is how change really happens — cooperation first, confrontation when it’s necessary. Across our political spectrum, knee-jerk confrontation is the tie that binds people to the right or left, but the emphasis there is on "jerk."
Herod, at 37, is a leader for a better generation.
"Women who run and win help more women get into office," Herod told the crowd about the women who inspired her.
She congratulated Donner and McReynolds on "amazing work." Like them, she believes women can change the face of democracy. Herod appreciated that the book lays out the facts without a sermon on whom to vote for.
"All of us," she said of the target audience, "because we all win when we increase access to democracy. ... I can't tell you how inspired I am."
A growing frustration I have is with politicians who go on and on about how they stand with women.
They stand up for women’s issues, no doubt, but that’s not the whole story. They stand up to get help pulling the lever on votes and campaign energy, but when the races that matter most are on the line — governor, U.S. Senate and president — Democrats collectively sit with their hands folded to clear the aisle for men. That’s not an opinion. That’s a fact.
(Stop your smirking, Republicans; you can’t even maintain a contingent of women in Capitol, as Democratic women run the people’s house. In 2018 there were more men in the Senate named Kevin, three, than there were GOP women in the chamber, two.)
"Politics has become a game," write Donner and McReynolds, "with the American people on the losing side."
In 1893, decades ahead of the nation, Colorado was the first state to pass a referendum to give white women the right to vote. Equality includes the ballot, but it doesn’t start in a vacuum. In the hard life of the Old West, men saw what women were made of. The East had the relative luxury to hold them as porcelain dolls, shelved from the affairs of state and nation.
A country battered and broken by the Civil War changed that.
Women stepped up after the war between brothers taking up opportunities forged in loss and necessity — iron sharpens iron.
They led their communities for health reforms, better schools, city beautification projects and justice tempered with mercy. They did this without elected office or even the right to vote. That struggle continues when we make it harder for people to vote.
"Since our country's founding, we have limited who could vote," Donner and McReynolds note.
Women have always been half the stitching and often twice the strength for our nation. We carry the weight of this republic together, or it doesn’t move forward at all.