Luz Reyes-Martin works hard getting more women in government and showing them how to run for elected offices. She is serving her first year as President of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, a non-partisan organization that works to expand our democracy and include more women and feminist policies at every level. In fact, she credits the committee with getting three of the four women trustees elected to the Goleta School Board, on which she also serves. It’s important to note that these are Luz’s extra-curricular commitments, in addition to her day job as Executive Director of Public Affairs and Communications for Santa Barbara City College and a mother of two children under the age of four.
The daughter of hardworking immigrants, she witnessed her classmates’ fear of being separated from their parents when California passed Proposition 187, which criminalized undocumented immigrants. She felt their fear and learned early on the impact government has on everyone’s lives even though she was documented. She says that it is really tragic to see this playing out again at a national level.
Having studied public policy and history, Luz became an advocate in high school and as a student senator at Stanford. And she says that she has seen first-hand how critical it is for people to be involved in the political process and hold legislators and government officials accountable. She pointed out that when women come to the table, questions are asked that wouldn’t otherwise be asked. A woman’s decision-making process is also more analytical, and Luz says they make the best budget decisions. Her message to women is that we need you. “The community needs you. Your voice is important, and it is valued.”
Opportunities for Women to Serve
Of course, Luz is excited at what we saw in 2018 at the congressional level and there has been a ripple effect from having so many women elected. She admits that while that is inspiring, there are a lot of opportunities for women to have an even greater impact at the state and local level. Everyday life is more affected by school boards, water boards, city councils and county supervisors. That is a great place for a woman to get started. They can also be a way to make a long-term difference as often council positions go uncontested for years and people don’t even notice.
She adds that there are many women scientists and water boards or city councils make the decisions that need their expertise. Another benefit is that this is the place to get executive experience for higher office and to be put in a position to appoint women to other boards. Board appointments are still largely made by men, so having more women in those decision-making positions can increase women on boards, and bring even more women to the table. She says that another benefit of having more women in office is that she has a community of peers to consult with if there is a particularly difficult school board meeting or if she needs advice about how to handle a particular issue.
Critical to Have a Strong and Equal Partner at Home
Luz notes that these are frequently volunteer positions, and often women can’t take on a position that is full time and not paid. In fact, it’s impossible without a strong and equal partner at home. Luz says, “You need to have honest conversations with your partner about the commitment that you’re making and why it’s important for children to see moms and to see women in these leadership positions. You have to model it for your children. The old adage ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ is absolutely true. I take my children with me to meetings, so both my little girl and my son can see me and other women in leadership roles.”
Pros and Cons Affecting Women Who Seek Office
Luz says that often it’s a matter of timing. To serve on the school board, she had to make sure the board understood that she needed early notice of meetings, so she could plan to attend. Other women may have different conflicts. She says that it helps them to see how they can get around their obstacles if she explains how they could work it into their lives. The same goes for other difficulties women face when running for office and facing the commitments of community service.
Listen to this interview for more tips, like how to address fundraising—another hurdle that women find difficult—and which Luz faced herself. Check out these links for more information about why women in leadership benefits us all and how you can advocate for getting more women into government, perhaps even yourself.