The Matriots: Ohio politics needs more women

Peter Tonguette
Sally Crane Cox, one of the founders of The Matriots

Regardless of your political convictions, 2018 is likely to go down as a year in which important, hard-fought campaigns were waged throughout Ohio. Undoubtedly, 2020 will be another such year in the Buckeye State and across the nation.

But what about 2019?

While the governor’s mansion will not change occupants, the members of the political action committee the Matriots consider this election cycle to be equally crucial.

“2019, of course, is an off-year in the sense that these are local and school board races,” says Sally Crane Cox, who co-founded the Matriots in 2018. The PAC provides funding to female candidates in Ohio.

“The political parties don’t go this low, like school board,” Cox says. “This is not as important to them, and we feel it’s actually more important to us.”

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Among the 76 candidates supported by the Matriots are women vying for spots on Columbus City Council and Columbus Board of Education. The work done in such posts is important, Cox says, and it can open a path for women who wish to advance political careers beyond local races. “We would love to build a farm team of women who share our values that will go on from being school board to county commissioner to township trustee to Ohio General Assembly.”

The Matriots was formed to address a deficit in Ohio politics: The state lags many others in the number of women serving in government. According to data gathered by the PAC, women represented only 22 percent of the Ohio General Assembly prior to the 2018 election, while statewide, women accounted for just 29 percent of office-holders.

Cox, a native of Bexley who previously was publisher of an earlier incarnation of Columbus Alive, saw a chance to break through the impasse in January 2017, when she and a group of female friends attended the Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

“Following the march, when we all came back so energized and really feeling dedicated to doing something more around women’s issues, I invited the five other women to come to my house for dinner,” says Cox, who found that none of the friends was interested in running for office.

Instead, they arrived at the idea of a PAC providing money to female candidates at the state and local levels. The Matriots—whose name suggests a combination of “patriots” and “matriarchs”—aimed to raise $400,000 when it began collecting donations in 2017.

“We got to $750,000 by the end of the year and then, within the 12-month period, we had reached $1 million,” Cox says.

Female candidates who wish to be considered for support must complete an application that demonstrates alignment with the values of the Matriots. The PAC is nonpartisan, and it seeks candidates who agree with the idea of promoting a society in which women can prosper.

An endorsement committee of women and men who have political experience review applications to decide which candidates to interview. The final decision to endorse a candidate rests with the PAC’s board of directors.

Among the first class of 2018, 18 of 34 endorsed candidates are now in office, says Executive Director Elissa Schneider.

“If you look at our list of donors and first-time candidates as well, many are people who were not involved in the political process,” Schneider says. “The fact that we’re bringing new power, new influence, new money into a political system to advance women is really exciting.”

All those things, along with more visibility, will be needed to achieve the goal the Matriots have set for themselves: 50 percent female representation in Ohio politics by 2028.

“It is a little daunting,” Cox says, “but we are determined and we’re going to carry forth.”

Peter Tonguette is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO.

65 S. Fourth St., Columbus 43215

About: Political action committee dedicated to providing funding to female candidates in Ohio.

Founders: Sally Crane Cox, Mindy Coffey, Rebecca Ibel, April Zimmerman Katz, Cathe Kobacker and Sharon Steele.

Executive director: Elissa Schneider

Employees: 3 full-time

Raised since launch: $2.1 million

The Matriots