With the midterm election fast approaching (did you register to vote yet?) you may have seen candidates knocking on doors in your neighborhood. But have you ever seen your candidates door knocking with one hand while holding onto a toddler with the other?
In a new piece for Fast Company, Caitlin Clarkson Pereira—a candidate for a House seat in Connecticut's state legislature—reveals that she's been doing just that. One hand shakes those of the neighbors she hopes to one day call constituents, while the other holds onto her 3-year-old daughter, Parker.
"I can't always afford a babysitter," Clarkson Pereira writes.
Campaign funds for campaign childcare?
That's why, earlier this year, she petitioned Connecticut's State Election and Enforcement Commission to allow her to use campaign funds for childcare expenses.
Mamas know it's hard enough to execute a successful Target run with kids in tow, so bringing them along while you run for political office must be very hard, and just can't be done a lot of the time. Politically-minded parents are forced to limit their campaigning to the times they do have childcare (there's only so much door knocking even the most patient 3-year-old is willing to do).
According to Clarkson Pereira, this puts mothers at a significant disadvantage when seeking public office. And that's too bad, because we really could use more moms in all levels of government.
"Working moms with young children like me promise to bring an important—and largely overlooked—perspective to the political arena," Clarkson Pereira explains, noting that policies around childcare, education and family leave could benefit from the election of working moms, who've had a inside look at the issues.
"But we can't elect more moms to local, state, and national office unless our laws—campaign and otherwise—adequately support them and their families. We have to provide opportunities for non-wealthy candidates to enter and compete on a level playing field in electoral politics," she writes.
There's good news—and bad news
Clarkson Pereira's petition to her state's Election and Enforcement Commission was denied. They're not letting her use campaign funds for childcare (although, as the Hartford Courant reports, if she wants to use the money to buy some campaign golf tees, that's totally cool). The Commission ruled that childcare falls under the same umbrella as mortgage payments—it's a household expense, not a campaign expense.
That wasn't the case in another state where women petitioned boards for approved childcare spending, though. Clarkson Pereira's political peers in Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and Wisconsin were successful in their petitions.
But in Iowa, single mother Reyma McCoy McDeid didn't get approved for childcare spending, either. Shortly after filing her petition, McCoy McDeid told the Des Moines Register that the estimated four figures she'd be out of pocket for childcare if she made it through the primary was a significant expense for her (it would be for many parents). She didn't make it through the primary, but she hopes that the mothers who come after her will be able to spend campaign funds on campaign childcare.
"This is about candidates in Iowa moving forward," McCoy McDeid said. "It could be a facilitator to normal everyday people like myself running for office because it could be one less barrier to run."
At the federal level at least, mothers are seeing that barrier fall. Liuba Grechen Shirley has got two toddlers and her sights set on Congress and she recently became the first woman to get approval from the Federal Election Commission to use campaign funds for child care.
"Our babysitter is just as important as my campaign manager or my finance director," Grechen Shirley told Newsweek. "She's just as integral, and she's paid as staff. I couldn't run my campaign without her."
Change is knocking
After the approval Grechen Shirley said she was proud to lead the way on this, and hopes that the decision results in a more diverse Congress.
"There's a reason more than half of Congressmembers are millionaires: running for office takes a huge toll on a family's budget, especially while raising children," she said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "This groundbreaking decision will remove a major financial obstacle for working families and mothers at a time when women are increasingly considering elected office."
As the midterms draw nearer, Grechen Shirley is likely depending more and more on her campaign babysitter, but meanwhile in Connecticut, Clarkson Pereira is making due without one, knocking on as many doors as possible with a toddler in tow.
"By the time we walk hand-in-hand up steps that are seemingly endless to a preschooler, I am able to greet about half as many voters as I can when she isn't forced to tag along. In retail politics, that's a very high cost," Clarkson Pereira writes.
Time will tell if the cost of childcare will cost her the election, and if the next mother to knock on those doors will be able to get a babysitter.