Illinois Lincoln Excellence in Public Service Series
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The Lincoln Series in the News

Bryant a trailblazer as female numbers drop in state House, 2/9/14

At a time when the number of women in the Illinois Legislature has dropped, Terri Bryant's election to the Illinois House stands out.  Read more here.

Bryant wins the 115th district seat over Kilquist, 11/5/14

For the first time, a woman will hold the seat of the 115th district in Illinois' House of Representatives. Read more here.

Lincoln Program grooms future GOP leaders, 2/9/14

Gary L. Smith of the Peoria Journal Star recently published an article on two of the 2014 Lincoln Series Fellows.  Read more here.

2014 Fellow Meghan Gray featured in local newspaper, 2/10/14

Meghan Gray of Beach Park has been named a 2014 fellow for the Illinois Lincoln Excellence in Public Service Series, a leadership program that trains and mentors up-and-coming Republican women in Illinois.  Read more here.

2014 Fellow Amy Sholar featured in local newspaper, 2/7/14

Alton Attorney Amy Sholar has been named a 2014 fellow for the Illinois Lincoln Excellence in Public Service Series, a leadership program that trains and mentors up-and-coming Republican women in Illinois. Sholar is one of seven women selected statewide to participate in the Illinois Lincoln Series this year. Read more here.

2013 Fellow Cindy Wellwood-Burke featured in local newspaper, 3/20/13

Jane Charmelo, a feature columnist and community editor for the Lombardian and Villa Park Review recently published an article on 2013 Lincoln Series Fellow Cindy Wellwood-Burke. Read the article here.

13th Congressional District E-Newsletter, 5/18/13

The Class of 2013 recently returned from their trip to Washington D.C. While in the capital city, they visited with many Illinois Republican leaders. Congressman Rodney Davis highlighted their visit in his most recent E-Newsletter.

Darlene Ruscitti tapped for Northeastern Illinois University Board of Trustees
(from Illinois Review, May 5, 2013)

DUPAGE - This week among other appointments, Governor Pat Quinn tapped DuPage County Republican Chairman Dr. Darlene Ruscitti of Bloomingdale, to join the 9-member Northeastern Illinois University Board of Trustees.

Dr. Ruscitti has been in the education profession in various capacities over the last 30 years, and serves as the first woman Regional Superintendent of the DuPage County School District. She holds a Doctor of Education Policy Studies and from Loyola University, and a M.A and B.A. from Northeastern Illinois University.

The Board of Trustees' member compensation consists of expenses incurred in attending the meetings.

Click here to see others serving on the NIU Board of Trustees.

The Illinois Lincoln Excellence in Public Service Series congratulates Alumna Dr. Darlene Ruscitti.

Training programs aim to prepare women for political arena -  

For Shannon Burns, it was how unions work and the importance of wearing eye makeup.

For JoEllen Ridder, it was how to apply the leadership skills gained during her career to the political arena.

All those skills, gained from training programs for women in the political arena, contribute to the two main elements experts say they need to win elections — confidence and money.And for Nazanin Tondravi, it was how to approach campaign fundraising and the importance of building a support network.

Learning those skills is critical to getting more women in elected office, a goal shared by candidate training program leaders on both sides of the political aisle.

In the Illinois legislature, 31 percent of elected officials are women, according to research by the Center for American Women and Politics. That percentage hasn't increased much in the decade since 2002, when 26.6 percent of Illinois state senators and representatives were women.

“We've been flatlining at the number of women who are in office,” said Debbie Walsh, who directs the center. “At that rate, parity is a very long way off.”

Gender parity is important to providing a truly representative government, Walsh said, so training programs at the local, state and national levels are aiming to “reignite the growth for women in office.” They're doing it by teaching the fundraising skills, political understanding and can-do attitude women need to run successful campaigns. Training programs strive to help women overcome the factors that prevent many of them from seeking office in the first place — mainly a lack of trust in their ability to succeed.

Building confidence

When Ridder, 53, was asked to run for Bensenville village clerk four years ago, she doubted she had the skills. A former director of administration for a steel company, she said, “People looked at me like ‘yes, you do.'”

Now a Bensenville trustee and executive director of a Republican women's training program called the Illinois Lincoln Excellence in Public Service Series, Ridder works to provide “that final boost of confidence and educational training” to other women preparing to seek office.

Training helps overcome socialization that has women stuck believing they're not meant to be political leaders, said Bonnie Ettinger, director of the Illinois Women's Institute for Leadership, a Democratic program modeled after the Lincoln Series.

“Women think they don't have the skills because they weren't raised to think they were qualified or able to be leaders in public service,” she said. “We're trying to change that.”

Women in training programs can learn from those who already have been elected and address how campaigning is different for them as opposed to men.

“Women run because they care about an issue,” Walsh said. “For men, it's more likely to be an interest in a political career. It's that different motivating force that gets you in.”

Running for office requires a complete shift in mindset for most women, Walsh said. They need to begin seeing friends and neighbors as voters and potential campaign supporters. And they need to learn that approaching strangers to ask for money isn't taboo, but necessary.

Fundraising school

Money is a vital component of any campaign, so the Women's Institute and the Lincoln Series both focus intently on the tricks to raising funds.

“One of the big focuses is training women to get over that inhibition to call and ask for money,” Ettinger said. “Women just say, ‘I couldn't do that. I couldn't call and ask for money; I'm not worth it.' So we have to build up their confidence.”

Women are great fundraisers for other candidates, charities or worthy causes, but they're not used to requesting money for themselves, said Julia Beckman, president of Democratic Women of DuPage County, which plans to hold a seminar about fundraising this summer.

“Women overwhelmingly say it's harder for them to raise money,” Walsh said. That's partially because women are likely to come from “less moneyed networks” of teachers and social workers, while men's networks are more likely to include wealthier contacts in law and business, she said.

Another explanation is some women simply aren't comfortable asking for campaign cash, said Tondravi, a 27-year-old from Naperville who is participating in the Women's Institute now to gain knowledge for a possible run later.

“Asking people to invest in you and your campaign places you in a difficult position,” Tondravi said. “This teaches you how to be comfortable with that and deal with it better.”

Professional fundraisers teach Women's Institute participants to ask everyone in their networks for money and to treat fundraising as a task that requires an organized approach.

In the Lincoln Series, participants are taught face-to-face is the best way to make a fundraising request, but email can be used for following up and thanking possible supporters for their time, consideration, and hopefully, money, Ridder said. The only way candidates will get any money is to take a deep breath and ask, so they're taught to push aside the fear of being told “no.”

Trainees in both programs raise money for the class that follows them — keeping the costs down for future participants, networking and gaining hands-on fundraising experience along the way.

Training benefits

Burns was never one to buy into the notion it's harder for women to raise money than it is for men. But the 58-year-old West Chicago resident, who is running for the DuPage County Forest Preserve Commission this fall, says she does believe in one hurdle stopping many of her female counterparts from seeking office: lack of experience.

“Women feel like if they're uncomfortable with doing something, they really ought to get more education, more experience, before they leap in and do it,” Burns said. “We all want to make sure we have enough experience to prove we deserve what we're going after.”

Burns, who completed Women's Institute training in 2011, also sought training through Emily's List, which trains pro-choice Democratic women. She said both helped take “the concept of running for office from something you do to a science.”

She's learned, for example, it's necessary to wear eye makeup to be electable. She's learned how to sit without looking smaller than a man — by crossing her ankles, folding her hands in front of her and leaning back a bit. And she's learned how to navigate the power structure of labor unions, an important source of support for Democratic candidates.

State Sen. Carole Pankau says she wishes she had that kind of training when she began her first bid for an elected office — the Keeneyville District 20 school board, in 1978. Without training, the Republican state senator who represents areas in Cook and DuPage counties said she learned how to campaign by “trial and error.”

“If you go through one of these programs, it gives you a little bit of confidence,” said Pankau, 64, of Itasca. “I wouldn't say that when I started out, I had a whole lot of confidence that I knew what I was getting into.”

Winning office

After the training comes the running.

In the North, Northwest and West suburbs, 29 women are seeking state House or state Senate seats and trying to create an increased female presence in state government.

Some of them, like 84th state House District candidates Stephanie Kifowit and Patricia Fee, are relying on strategies they learned from training programs.

Fee, a 56-year-old Republican from Aurora, said her training with the Lincoln Series taught her women often need to be asked to pursue election.

For such training to have its desired effect — increasing the number of women in office — politically minded women need to overcome their fears, build their confidence, bring in some money, and go for it, she said.

“We need to step out of our box and say, ‘I can run for public office. I don't need to be asked,'” Fee said. “We need to get over that.”

       Illinois Lincoln Series Governor and Class of  2007 Fellow - Katherine Coyle with House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Aaron Schock


House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio participates in a ceremonial House swearing-in ceremony for Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Illinois Lincoln Series Founder Mary Jo Arndt (story)

       National Committeewoman and RNC Secretary Demetra DeMonte (Illinois Lincoln Series Honorary Governor)

       State Senator Sue Rezin, (Lincoln Series Follow, class of 2009) (story)

       Champaign County Board Member Stephanie Holderfield  (Lincoln Series Fellow, class of 2009) -- Congratulations to Stephanie on winning a seat on the Champaign County Board!

       State Representative Kay Hatcher (Lincoln Series Fellow, class of of 1999)