Fearless Women

08.07.13

Wendy Davis, Kamala Harris, Chris Taylor & More Tough Democratic Women

Kathleen Kane has fought her governor on gay marriage. Alison Lundergan Grimes is taking on Mitch McConnell. Both are part of a rising guard of Democratic women, reports Patricia Murphy.

They're fierce, they're fearless, and they're shaking up races and state houses across the country. Meet the new breed of Democratic women who make no apologies for themselves, their beliefs, or their party.

Wendy Davis

Texas state senator

Never have a pair of pink running shoes, a back brace, and a YouTube connection created a bigger stir than with Wendy Davis’s now famous filibuster in the Texas state Senate against abortion restrictions. Since her 10-hour marathon, the 50-year-old Davis has rocketed to national attention with appearances on Meet the Press and, on Monday, at the National Press Club. Davis has said she’ll either run for reelection or launch a bid for Texas governor—she could succeed Rick Perry, George W. Bush, and another strong-willed Texas woman, Ann Richards. It’s hard to imagine the woman who went from Tarrant County College to Harvard Law School backing down from the chance to take over the governor’s mansion. The prospect has Texas and national Democrats crossing their fingers for Davis to use her pink shoes for a different kind of run in 2014.

Alison Lundergan Grimes

Kentucky secretary of state; U.S. Senate candidate

It took Grimes less than six minutes at this weekend’s Fancy Farm political extravaganza to transform from a relatively unknown secretary of state to the woman taking on Mitch McConnell in 2014. With a bluegrass lilt and her grandmother by her side, Grimes lit into McConnell as the malignancy in Washington’s cancer of dysfunction and implored voters to go from “Team Mitch” to “Team Switch.” The polished, aggressive performance put the 34-year-old lawyer on national Democrats’ radar in a big way. Knocking off the Senate minority leader will be an uphill climb, but as one of five daughters of a longtime Kentucky Democrat, Grimes knows that sometimes just making your voice heard can be as important as winning the argument.

Kamala Harris

California attorney general

She’s the first woman, first African-American, and first Indian-American to serve as California’s attorney general, but Kamala Harris may be best known, for now, as the woman President Obama called “by far the best-looking attorney general in the country.” A few details Obama neglected to point out in that introduction: her 90 percent conviction rate as the district attorney of San Francisco and her opinion on jailing violent offenders (“Lock ’em up”). Inappropriate presidential remarks aside, Democratic strategists believe they have a star on their hands in Harris, as evidenced by her primetime speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention and the job they see her filling one day: Supreme Court justice.

Christine Quinn

New York City Council speaker; New York City mayoral candidate

Serial sexter Anthony Weiner may be getting all the press, but New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is quietly amassing most of the support in the circus that has become the race for New York City mayor. But “quiet” is the last word anyone would use to describe the hard-charging Quinn or her aggressive leadership style, which was deemed so volatile that The New York Times devoted an entire profile to tales of her so-called bad behavior, including “threatening, repeatedly, to slice off the private parts of those who cross her.” Accusations of sexism flew at the Times over the article, but Quinn defended herself, saying, “I don’t think being pushy or bitchy or tough, or however you want to characterize it, is a bad thing. New Yorkers want somebody who’s going to get things done.” With a Quinnipiac poll showing Quinn more than 10 points ahead of her Democratic rivals, including Weiner, she may have a chance to start getting things done as New Yorkers’ next mayor.

Heather Mizeur

Maryland House of Delegates; Maryland gubernatorial candidate

The former Hill staffer, aide to John Kerry, and welder’s daughter has been called “audacious,” “canny,” and “hard-charging,” and her run for Maryland governor is all of those things. If she wins, the 40-year-old Mizeur will be Maryland’s first female governor and the nation’s first openly gay governor. For the last seven years Mizeur has served in the Maryland House of Delegates, but she made national headlines when she led the fight to legalize gay marriage in the state, telling Republican delegates, “My wife is up in the gallery, and she and I will be married, and we will love each other, and we will live the rest of our lives together, whether or not you choose to protect us in tragedy ... You can’t stop that.”

Charlotte Golar Richie

Boston mayoral candidate

In 2000 The Boston Globe wrote, “People who matter in politics predict that Charlotte Golar Richie will be the first black mayor of Boston.” Thirteen years later the former adviser to Mayor Tom Menino and Gov. Deval Patrick, onetime state legislator, and nonprofit executive is finally making a run at the Globe’s prediction in a crowded Democratic field. At a recent campaign rally, she danced herself onto the stage and told the crowd, “If you really want to make change, you can’t be sitting on the sidelines, people! You’ve got to be in it to win it. And I’m in it.” As for the chance to be the first woman to run the city, Golar Richie said, “Women in politics have been dutiful followers. Now it’s my turn. It’s our turn.”

Kathleen Kane

Pennsylvania attorney general

Kane hardly had time to unpack her boxes this year as Pennsylvania’s newest attorney general before she found herself in a constitutional showdown with Republican Gov. Tom Corbett over gay marriage. Kane has argued that the state’s law defining marriage as between a man and a woman is unconstitutional, and she has left it to the governor’s legal staff to defend the statute. Corbett’s office says it’s not up to Kane to “pick and choose” the laws she wants to enforce. Democrats in Washington, watching the AG’s battle from the sidelines in recent months, have taken notice of Kane’s fight and say the episode has proved to them she “could have a national future.”

Chris Taylor

Wisconsin state assemblywoman

A mom and a lawyer, Taylor says she decided to run for the state Assembly as she watched Gov. Scott Walker strip collective-bargaining rights for state workers. Since winning her seat in 2011, the former Planned Parenthood Wisconsin public-policy director’s habit of not mincing words has “ruffled feathers” in the capital, but also won over skeptics. She has accused Republicans of “having a hostility to actual people” and of not having “the guts” to tell voters about what’s in their bills. And she once observed that “children would have done a better job on this [GOP] bill. In fact, I would like to have my son’s kindergarten class come in here, and I guarantee they will do a better job.” The “fearless” Taylor has quickly made a name for herself in the state and attracted the notice of national Democrats, who point to her as a woman who makes no apologies for their party and could have major potential in the future.