9 Badass Women Changing The Face Of Politics Today

For as far as women have come since the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920 (hard to believe, but it really has been less than 100 years since women were given the right to vote in this country), the political field still looks a lot like an Old Boys' Club. Literally.
Only 277 women have served in Congress since Rep. Jeannette Rankin became the first in 1917, and the average age for a U.S. Senator is 62. So, while Hill offices, nonprofits, and internships are packed with smart, driven young women, there’s still a gender gap when it comes to real political power.
But instead of accepting that gap, several amazing women are working tirelessly to change the face of politics — by running for office, calling the shots behind the scenes, and advocating for women’s rights. Here’s a primer on some of the political powerhouses (all under 40!) who we think will be making headlines for decades to come.
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Tulsi Gabbard

At 21, Tulsi Gabbard was the youngest person ever elected to the Hawaii State Legislature. Two years later, she resigned her seat to deploy to Iraq with her National Guard unit. During her second deployment to Kuwait, Gabbard became the first woman to receive an award from the Kuwaiti guards. Now 31, Gabbard is poised to become the first Hindu-American and the first female war veteran elected to Congress. But it won’t be Gabbard’s first time on Capitol Hill. After returning from her first deployment, Gabbard worked for U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) as a legislative aide. After her second deployment, Gabbard began serving on the Honolulu City Council, where she now chairs the safety, economic development, and government affairs committee.

At the Democratic National Convention, she told the crowd she understands the cost of war. “These days, it’s often women in uniform — moms, wives, even grandmothers — who deploy and leave their families behind,” she said, according to a Los Angeles Times report. Gabbard didn’t have to go to war. Though her brigade was deploying, her unit was not being sent along. She asked to go, because she said she couldn’t stay home while her fellow soldiers went to Iraq. The deployment “brought me to a deeper understanding of the meaning of freedom in our country,” she told the Times, discussing her views on social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. “We cannot afford to walk down that dangerous path of government overstepping its boundaries into the most personal parts of our lives.”

On her campaign website, Gabbard stresses her commitment to “living aloha” — living with love and compassion for others. She also is dedicated to environmental and public health. At 19, she cofounded the Healthy Hawaii Coalition, and she continues to work to protect the environment and improve community health. She told CNN that when she started her campaign, people told her “there’s no way you can win,” but she was able to overcome a huge deficit in the primary through a grassroots effort. Getting people of all ages involved and working together is key, she said. “You have a role in the decision making, in the future of our country…Step up to the plate and take charge.”

Photo: Courtesy of Vote Tulsi
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Huma Abedin

Since Huma Abedin appeared in Vogue in August 2007, the glamorous and hard-working deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has had to weather more than one major political storm. First, her husband of less than a year was caught sending inappropriate (on so many levels) photos to women via Twitter. He was forced to resign his seat in Congress because of the scandal. Then, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and four other Republican House members suggested that Abedin, a Muslim, was a traitor who was using her position to influence Clinton on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood. But, in a nod to her sterling personal reputation, politicians from both sides of the aisle were quick to defend the 37-year-old Abedin. John McCain (R-Arizona) headed to the floor of the Senate to say Bachmann’s allegations were an “unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant.”

Abedin told Time magazine that she ended up in politics because of the Clintons, and Hillary Clinton told Vogue that Abedin has “the energy of a woman in her 20s, the confidence of a woman in her 30s, the experience of a woman in her 40s, and the grace of a woman in her 50s. She is timeless, her combination of poise, kindness, and intelligence are matchless, and I am lucky to have had her on my team for a decade now.” And, while rumors fly about whether Weiner will run for mayor of New York City, there is also a growing buzz about Abedin herself running for office. We can’t say we wouldn’t love to see that.

Photo: Rex USA
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Mia Love

Mia Love, 36, is on track to become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress. But her path to politics has been as non-traditional as it is quintessentially American. On the campaign trail and on her website, Love tells the story of her parents — Haitian immigrants who came to the United States “with $10 in their pockets in hopes of achieving the American dream.” She was born in Brooklyn, and her parents became naturalized citizens in 1984. Love likes to talk about personal responsibility, and made it one of the cornerstones of her campaign. She stresses that her parents never took a handout, and that her father told her to “never be a burden to society.”

“Citizens should not expect the government to provide to them what they can provide for themselves. And no citizen, business, local government, or state should expect a bailout to shield them from the consequences of their own decisions,” she says on her website. “Our nation was founded on the principles of individual liberty and personal responsibility, and we must return to those roots.”

The rising Republican star once had dreams of a different kind of fame — the kind that comes with Broadway lights. She trained for a career in musical theater, but gave up the chance for a starring role on Broadway to marry her husband, Jason Love, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. She got involved in city council after neighbors enlisted her to help solve an insect problem in her subdivision, the Tribune reported. And though the mother of three may make history on election day, Love told the Associated Press that her campaign is about policy, not race or gender. “I was elected mayor not because of my race or gender, not because I wear high heels, but because of the politics I put in place,” she told AP.

Photo: Courtesy of Love4Utah
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Rachel Kleinfeld

Rachel Kleinfeld already had a few years’ worth of human rights and economic development experience when she was working on her dissertation. But, as she traveled to more countries, she says, it suddenly became clear that neoconservative foreign policies “were making the world a lot less safe.” She knew she could try to do more work on the ground abroad, but she wanted make a broader change. So, she and a friend founded the Truman National Security Project. The goal? Changing America’s approach to foreign policy, and creating policies that create “a safe and stable world so we can have a secure and strong America.” No big deal, right?

Kleinfeld, 36, grew up in a log house on a dirt road in Alaska, but she says she’s been interested in politics since a 4th-grade food drive for the Ethiopian famine. She has worked as a consultant for several government agencies and private organizations (including the World Bank, the European Union, and Booz Allen Hamilton), has served as an elections monitor in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and is a Rhodes Scholar and a Truman Scholar. The Truman Project trains progressive politicians and staffers on national security issues, and does public education and advocacy about foreign policy. Kleinfeld says she would love to see more women — and more diversity, in general — in the national security realm, because people from different backgrounds have different experiences to bring to the table. “We really hurt ourselves when we have a lot of people with the same background, the same education, the same upbringing,” she says.

Kleinfeld’s work with Truman is far from done, she notes. She hopes to do more writing and speaking, particularly about how to make the government work better. And she hopes for something she’d like to see more of in politics: A better work- life balance.

Photo: Courtesy of The Truman Project
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Sandra Fluke

Whether you love her or hate her, it’s unlikely you’re ambivalent about Sandra Fluke. After Republicans shut the 31-year-old Georgetown law student out of a Congressional hearing about insurance coverage for birth control earlier this year, she testified before a House Democratic panel — much to the horror of Rush Limbaugh. Since then, Fluke has become a target of horrible sexist insults from the far right and a hero to many on the left. But, causing partisan bickering was never her intention, she told the Huffington Post. “I certainly don’t want to be a polarizing figure, and I don’t try to say things that are polarizing — I just try to say why these are important to my generation and to me, and evidently that’s upsetting for some people to hear.”

Of course, Fluke wasn’t asking the government to pay her to have sex — the charge many critics lobbied against her. She was speaking on behalf of a friend who needed the pill to control ovarian cysts, not to prevent pregnancy. After that firefight in the so-called “War on Women,” Fluke began campaigning for President Obama and other Democratic candidates. And she doesn’t just talk about birth control. But, she told the Huffington Post she’s not sure whether she’ll run for office. “It’s something I would think about,” she said. “It’s becoming very clear to me that we need more young women in office, and that running for office is one of the ways we can advance issues, but it’s not what I’m focused on right now.”

Photo: PatrickMcMullan.com
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Kyrsten Sinema

Kyrsten Sinema didn’t expect to become a politician; she hated politics when she was younger. But the 36-year-old social worker says that working with poor immigrant children helped her realize that no matter how hard they worked, the system was working against them. Sinema’s dad lost his job when she was in elementary school, and she says at one point, her family had to live in an abandoned gas station with no running water. They sometimes didn’t have enough food to eat. Still, she was able to graduate from high school early and earn a full academic scholarship and Pell grant for college.

During college, she worked at a domestic violence shelter, then got a job in a low-income community in Phoenix and later earned a master’s degree, a law degree, and a PhD. With that success, she says, she feels driven by a sense of community stewardship. “If you make it, you have a duty to help others make it,” she said. Now, Sinema is fighting a tough campaign in a new congressional district, hoping to become the fifth woman elected to Congress from Arizona. If she wins, she’ll be the first openly bisexual member of Congress.

Sinema has served in Arizona’s Senate and House of Representatives, and says she excels at finding common ground where people didn’t think it existed. For example, she worked with a conservative representative from her hometown, Tucson, to pass a law that protects breast-feeding moms from public indecency violations. Democrats in the state had been trying to pass the law for eight years, she says, but she framed it in the context of family values — and earned bipartisan support. She hopes to take that spirit of cooperation to Washington, but first she has to overcome her opponent’s attack ads calling her a “radical left- wing activist.” The latest ads are funded by a Super PAC that recently got a $2.5 million donation from Chevron. She says that donation, and many of the nasty ads this election season, are directly linked to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which classifies corporations as people and allows unlimited campaign contributions. “Politics doesn’t have to be like that,” she says. “We’re the public…Say no thanks to the ugliness. Say yes to the positive.”

Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie Schriock
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Stephanie Schriock

Stephanie Schriock, 39, was just a tween when EMILY’s List was founded in 1985, but the future president of the organization – which raises money for pro-choice female Democratic candidates – was already formulating her political views. A copper company shut down the mine in her hometown of Butte, Montana, after a union strike in the early ‘80s, and “the town just started to die,” she says. “I couldn’t understand why the big corporation was hurting families. Really, it was that simple to me. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was a Democrat.”

Schriock got involved in politics and her church, volunteering for a campaign during high school and honing a political strategy to win the election for student body president. (No Tracy Flick tricks here — she just focused on freshmen and sophomores, who hadn’t already developed an allegiance to another candidate.) Schriock’s first paying job in politics was for an EMILY’s List candidate, and she also managed Senate races for Jon Tester of Montana and Al Franken of Minnesota (and SNL) and worked as Howard Dean’s finance director. Now, at EMILY’s List, she’s working to increase the number of women in office across the country. The organization recruits female candidates, trains them, and then supports their campaigns and fundraising efforts. (EMILY stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast). “We have a long way to go. Right now, women make up just 17 percent of Congress,” Schriock says. “There’s a chance we have only one Democratic woman in a governor’s seat after this election — and if Maggie Hassan doesn’t win in New Hampshire, we’ll have none at all.” Having more women in office is critical, she notes, because it “would change the tone, the discussion, the focus — literally, the priorities of the nation. Do you think, in 2012, we’d be talking about birth control if Congress was 50 or 51 percent women? Do you think perhaps the focus would be on the economy and on education, instead?”

Schriock urges young women to get involved in whatever way they can — volunteering with a candidate or a community service organization, or even just playing sports. “Politics is essentially about community — so take care of yours, build it, find your place within it,” she says. Meanwhile, she said she’s going to keep working to make EMILY’s List stronger by bringing in more candidates and supporting talented staff. “We have such amazing folks working so hard at EMILY’s List — I want to make sure they’re set up to have the same kind of career that I did. Because this is so important — the stakes are so high for women and families all over the country,” she says. “Mostly, I just want to make a difference.”

Photo: Courtesy of EMILY'S List
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Jaime Herrera Beutler

At 33, Jaime Herrera Beutler is the youngest woman serving in Congress, and the first Hispanic person to represent Washington state in the U.S. House of Representatives. But she’s already making a name for herself on Capitol Hill: Her first bill would cut the salaries of the president, the vice president, and members of Congress by 10 percent. She also cosponsored a bill that would require the federal government to balance its budget every year.

Beutler started her political career as an intern in her home state’s Senate, in the White House Office of Political Affairs, and on Capitol Hill before working as a senior legislative aide for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), advising the congresswoman on health care policy, education, and veterans’ and women’s issues. She also served in the Washington state legislature before winning election to Congress.

Now, Beutler is focused on the economy and jobs. On her website, she says she wants Congress to make job creation its top priority. She also says she wants to safeguard Medicare, fix health care through “patient-centered solutions,” and take an “all of the above” approach to energy. Last year, she wrote a guest opinion column for The Daily News in Washington, touting bipartisanship as the best way to solve problems. “Unemployment, a troubled housing market, and big government deficits loom overhead. No one would say these are just Republican or Democratic challenges. To solve these problems, both parties are needed,” she wrote. The new bride — she got married shortly after she won her first Congressional campaign in 2010 — differs from her opponent on many issues, but says that making positive change isn’t limited to red or blue. “I don’t believe one party has a monopoly on good ideas in this country, and I will continue to work with folks from both parties as long as the solution benefits our region,” she wrote.

Photo: Courtesy of Francisco Canseco
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Jackie Curtiss

Jackie Curtiss, 22, has taken a stance against abortion (although she supports an exception for rape victims). But she understands that some issues related to birth control and women’s health are causing a gender and generational divide in the Republican Party, and she isn’t afraid to speak up about it.

This year, Curtiss, the youngest member (by far) of the Republican platform committee, told the other members at the Republican National Convention that they needed to make sure the party shows that it welcomes women — and that banning the morning-after pill isn’t the way to do that, Buzzfeed reported. “I’m a little disappointed that the Republican Party didn’t take into account that with college educated women, they support Barack Obama 63-32 percent,” Curtiss told Buzzfeed after the meeting. “Some of these issues are the reason for that.”

The college student from the University of Montevallo in Alabama was originally a delegate for Rick Santorum. She reportedly was the only person who mentioned Rep. Todd Akin’s comments during the committee meeting, and said that while the party didn’t need “to get hung up on him,” it also shouldn’t mirror his views. Curtiss is also refreshingly realistic on sex education. “I’m from Alabama — we have abstinence-only education. We also have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. While I support abstinence and I think it’s something to teach our kids, I also am realistic and understand a majority of our kids are not waiting until marriage to have sex,” she said.

Though Curtiss is young, she has already made a splash in her party. She is the National Committeewoman for the Young Republican Federation of Alabama and a member of the finance committee for the Young Republican National Federation. She’s also a pro at raising money. According to the Greater Birmingham Young Republicans, she has raised more than $25,000 for the YRFA, and in 2009, she registered more voters than any other member of her local YR chapter.

Curtiss told Buzzfeed she didn’t want social issues to be the main focus of the platform, and hopes the party will address young people’s concerns in the next election. “I’m for limited government and hopefully we can move forward on some of these issues that I think my generation, we don’t want to get stuck in — how we teach sex education, we don’t want to get caught up in people’s bodies. We are pro-life, and we don’t want to compromise our principles; we do want to be more realistic as a party.”

So: strongly held ideas, fundraising chops, and media buzz? Expect Curtiss’ name on a ballot soon.

Photo: Courtesy of Greater Birmingham Young Republicans