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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Martha C. McKay, June 13, 1989. Interview C-0076. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Importance of women working both as a group and within the Democratic Party

McKay discusses trends in the Democratic Party and their impact upon the fight for women's rights in North Carolina during the late 1970s and 1980s. According to McKay, there was a growing lack of cohesive leadership within the North Carolina Democratic Party. As a result, McKay reasserts her belief that women needed to both fight for inclusion in politics as a group and within the Democratic Party. She ends by arguing that the newly formed EMILY's List, a national organization dedicated to raising funds for women political candidates, offered a good model for political tactics for getting more women into public office in North Carolina.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Martha C. McKay, June 13, 1989. Interview C-0076. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KATHRYN NASSTROM:
I think maybe at this point I'll move to a more general question which is to ask you what progress you think women have made in North Carolina politics in the last fifteen years?
MARTHA MCKAY:
I think that we in North Carolina, as would be true in any state, we more or less reflect the national trends to some extent. In the world of work, and probably in politics, women have gone, you know the same old story, two steps forward and one step back. I think in the past - during the Reagan administration - that we certainly have gone back in the world of work and to some extent this is reflected in other segments of the society, including the parties. The Democratic Party now is trying to move away from having to deal with all the special interest groups. And there's some point in that. It got to the point where the DNC had, I don't know, something like twenty-two caucuses. Everybody you could think of had a caucus. And I think there's some point in saying you just can't move on that basis. If you have so many caucuses that are threatening to stop the works and so on and so forth. So I think there needs to be a move back to what the party stands for, the old populism brought up to date so to speak. I think they need to go back to that. I think there's been a backlash. I think the whole abortion thing, the anti-abortion movement, springs from either conscious or unconscious behavior, and I suspect a lot of it is unconscious, to want to put women back where they were. Barefoot and pregnant. I think that women moving into all these new roles - and I think it's been shown in studies, certainly has in terms of women in management and the world of work - are a threat. And oftentimes perhaps in personal relationships. I think that the abortion thing is an attempt to put women back where these people think they belong, the pro-life, whatever you want to call it. In terms of the party, I don't think we're where we were a couple years ago, four or five years ago when Hunt was governor. We have to look at the fact that we now have a Republican Governor and the party's a whole different ball of wax when you're out of power than it is when you're in power. Of course, as you know, there were women who didn't like what Lawrence Davis said about - he is the current party chair - about the fact that he's opposed to abortion. And there was a little brouhaha over that. Today I don't really think there are any women that are helping to call shots in terms of the party, and I think there were. Of course there were when Betty McCain was party chair and also when Jim Hunt was governor. Betty was a person of influence in the Hunt administration. We had a woman executive director of the party who did a bang-up job, really good job.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
And who was that?
MARTHA MCKAY:
Janice Faulkner. Very, very good. In my view she did the best job of executive director of anyone we've had in the last ten or fifteen years. But it's very hard when you don't have a leader, it's hard. It's a kind of an ebb and flow where people are coming together and calling the shots and there is no leader. It's difficult, and it's hard to draw any real conclusions when we're leaderless. Women are not out, yet they're not being pushed in terms of the party. They're probably are groups of men that think they should be calling the shots and aren't, or helping to call the shots. Perhaps some of the younger people. So it's hard to draw a comparison since we're out of power. But the party in North Carolina is not in good shape, because of the lack of leadership. You've got to have a focus, you've got to have a leader.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
One of my questions for you, which I think you've just answered in a way, is, what's in the Democratic Party for women at this stage? And I think especially my question comes from seeing that your entire time in politics you've been as committed to the party as you've been to women's organizations, electoral politics organizations.
MARTHA MCKAY:
I've always had a commitment to the party and still do. I don't know that the commitments were equal. When we formed the Caucus, and in the years following that time, I certainly made a commitment that I was going to spend my time and whatever money I had working for women candidates. Of course when Sanford ran there was no question that I would do whatever he wanted me to do. We are fifty-year friends and furthermore I think he's an outstanding public servant. I'm sorry, I've lost my train of thought. We started out where?
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Most recently I asked generally what's in the North Carolina Democratic Party for women?
MARTHA MCKAY:
Okay. I think the party is trying now to make it clear that they don't want to and can't respond to all these special interest groups and I think they have a point. So within that I think we have to work for women and work for holding the party together. I think now we have to work for that double thing. I think we have to work for both. That does not mean we stop looking for women candidates and that we stop supporting them. There's an organization on the national level and I have talked about this to some people here and who knows, we may pull it off one of these days. There's something out of Washington called EMILY's List. That stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast. I really think that it's something we probably should do here. They have been successful recently in two seats that were filled. Women that they supported won. One was Quayle's seat in Missouri and to tell you the truth I've forgotten where the other one was. It might have been Alabama. Anyway, two seats, two women ran. They have a very pragmatic, tough process that they go through in terms of selecting the candidates they will support. Then they select a small group, relatively speaking, and then they give them money. They gave Barbara McCulsky, I believe they gave her, if I'm not mistaken, I'd have to check this, I don't know, three or four thousand dollars, does that sound right?
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
I'm afraid I wouldn't know.
MARTHA MCKAY:
Anyway, they gave her a substantial amount of money and they gave it early. That's what you have to do. You can't wait until somebody's in a hot race. You've got to give that money early so that people can have an organization, and a base and money to raise money and so on and so forth. Some of us are kind of looking at that idea for North Carolina. I think that we're still committed to identifying women who can and should run and supporting those women however we can. Certainly there's a group of us who think that we have to do what EMILY's List has done, whether or not we have the money, and that is to have a narrow focus. And I think most of us are thinking about the General Assembly.