A political activist for more than 30 years, Lulu Flores bounces energetically between national and local causes. At the moment, she is firing up women to elect President Obama and support all Texas Democrats, but she never stops encouraging and mentoring young women, no matter what else she’s doing.
Past president of the National Women’s Political Caucus, Flores is a partner and senior legal advisor at Austin’s HendlerLaw PC, devoting a large part of her practice time to community service and public interest work. During law school at UT, she worked for Irma Rangel, the first Hispanic woman elected to the Texas House, and helped draft the state’s first domestic violence legislation.
Over the years she has been legislative director of the Mexican-American Bar Association of Texas, director of government relations for the State Bar of Texas and deeply involved with countless organizations in the ongoing fight for equal rights for women.
QUESTION: You, Representative Donna Howard and Representative Dawnna Dukes have been helping the TCDP reach out to women this election cycle. What’s next in this effort to boost Texas’ abysmally low turnout of women?
FLORES: We’re all involved in (Tuesday’s) Women for Obama event at Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole’s house. And we’re going to help spread the word about the UnitedWomen.Org event, Women Take Texas 2012 Rally, at the Capitol on October 21st. We’re trying to get folks excited about the election and turn out the women’s vote so that we can take back Texas. A lot rests on women’s shoulders, because traditionally we tend to vote more. We’ve got to get Texas women to go vote again.
QUESTION: Why do you think so many Texas women either stayed home or voted Republican in 2010?
FLORES: I’ve been trying to figure that out. Maybe the war on women wasn’t quite as pronounced in 2010 as it is today. The attacks have certainly increased in the last couple of years. There’s always a downturn in any midterm, but I also think what happened in 2010 is a lot of younger women and women in general weren’t as focused on voting. Unmarried women were hit hard by the economic downturn, so maybe it just didn’t translate into going to the polls. They were just trying to survive. I also think women are turned off by negativity, and there was a lot of that. But elections do have consequences, so we need to fight back against apathy. Women need to be suiting up to fight back and re-elect President Obama and elect all the women and good men who will protect women’s rights.
QUESTION: The Republican war on women has been shocking and — perhaps nothing more horrendous than the Texas sonogram law. Why do you think this is happening in the 21st century, after the progress we had made?
FLORES: The religious right has gotten a stronger foothold and is turning back the rights of women, getting more people elected, passing these laws that are so Draconian, so harmful and hurtful. Basic civil rights and economic rights — everything that helped women in the past 30 to 40 years of the movement — have been attacked. The religious right was a sleeping giant, but now they’ve jumped in and gotten more folks into office.
QUESTION: Why would Republican women be on board with this backward thinking?
FLORES: I don’t understand why women would be pushing for policies that keep women down. I guess some of them are buying the rhetoric, and in some sinister way the Republican Party has realized women are good spokespersons and hard workers, and they co-opted our call for getting women into office. Now they’re in positions to advocate policies hostile to women, and I don’t understand that.
QUESTION: We’ve been lucky in Travis County to have the dedicated work of women like Donna Howard and Dawnna Dukes. Talk a little bit about how important it is to have women in elected office.
FLORES: It’s really important. Women bring a very different perspective that otherwise wouldn’t be addressed. They defend and understand issues in ways that men simply can’t. We’re over 50 percent of the population, so it’s important for us to be at the table. It should always be a collaborative approach, but I think women tend to work harder on legislation. I’m very happy that Travis County has a good record with women in office, but we can’t rely on that. We have to continue to recognize the importance of having women’s voices at the table and work hard to keep the gains and encourage young women to come prepared to fill those seats when they’re vacant.
QUESTION: So how can we encourage more women to run for office?
FLORES: The Democratic Party needs to understand the fundamental need to have women in office, and it needs to encourage and support them. The party should co-sponsor training for women to encourage them to run. My experience, working with the (National Women’s Political) Caucus, is that women, more often than not, need to be asked to run, so we should encourage women, especially young women, to become leaders. If there are vacancies, we need to recruit talented young women.
Women still face special challenges, but the more who are elected and do a good job, the more that perception will be dismissed. It’s still a real challenge for women to raise money for themselves and have equal footing. And young women tend to take on more of the family responsibilities. I do believe it’s changing, but we’re not seeing the numbers we need to see. We need more. When women do make the decision to run, we need to make sure we support them — with our resources and our help.