Working in male-dominated industries like foreign policy, national security and the nuclear field helped honed Jane Kim Coloseus for the job she has now.
Coloseus is executive director of Her Term, a four-year-old Atlanta-based nonprofit that recruits women to run for public office in the Georgia state legislature. It is an organization of about 10 people.
“Having now been in state politics, there is this common struggle in terms of how do you actually get in the door? How do you understand what a job entails and how do you get recruited, get promoted and get retained in these positions?” Coloseus told Atlanta Civic Circle. ”There’s really a lot of commonalities. [Both are] very heavily dominated by a very narrow kind of perspective.”
Her Term may be a small outfit, but its alumni roster includes heavy hitters such as State Rep. Nikema Williams, the first Black woman elected to Georgia’s 5th District and U.S. Representatives Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath.
Atlanta Civic Circle talked to Coloseus about Her Term’s mission, goal and the upcoming midterm elections. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Q. How many women has Her Term recruited to run for office? Do you go out and recruit them or do they come to you for help?
A. It’s a good mix. Some people reach out to us because they want to run for office but they don’t know where to start. And some people, we turn to them. It just really depends. Essentially, we want to be there for that initial step that she’s taking and just making sure that all of her ducks are lined up and all of the I’s dotted and T’s are crossed.
Q. How many women have you worked with in the last four years?
A. We have consulted with over 400 women who have an interest in running for office. Of those we have worked with, I believe, about 45 candidates in the targeted seats we have worked in. I think a total of 25 have been elected into office.
Q. As head of Her Term, what have you learned when it comes to getting and positioning women into politics?
A. We should really focus on recruiting people to help them understand this is the job description, and this is what you can do. Here’s a checklist. See if you can check it all off, and just really help have that conversation with them.
We don’t have a lot of role models, you know, especially if you think about back in the days until today. There’s really not a lot of role models who can help you understand how you can get to those positions. Women face a lot of pushback. Candidates we have worked with face a lot of pushback, even within support circles. We want to really empower our candidates to say, despite all the noise around you, this is exactly what the process is. This is how you can navigate. Will you take that step to doing so?
Q. What are some things Her Term wants to focus on for the upcoming mid-term, and 2024 elections?
A. Right now our strategy is to focus on 2022. We want to think globally or think nationally but act locally. In 2022, Georgia will have the gubernatorial elections. So the midterm elections are interesting. We are currently working with a good number of statewide candidates who are looking to be elected into executive positions. We worked with Secretary of State candidate Bee Nguyen in the past and we will continue to support her.
We are looking at public service commissioner, labor commissioner, agriculture commissioner. All of these positions are currently not diverse. We want to be able to bring diversity and representation into those positions. So that’s definitely what we are working on as of right now. We will unveil all of them, perhaps towards the end of the month or early next month. Now that the census data is out, redistricting will happen. So we do have a very short timeline in terms of identifying the competitive seats that we know can be flipped. Then finding the right woman to run for office and having her get on the ballot, in March. It’s a very short timeline. So right now we are building out a roster of potential candidates throughout the state. Once we know what the district lines are and how competitive they will be, we will go into our roster and select and just start talking and having this conversation with these women so they will be ready to run for office.
Q. Census data show Georgians live mostly in and around metro areas and not so much in rural areas now. Where’s Her Term’s focus at this point?
A. We’ll have to see exactly what the district lines will be and how competitive they are. But it is a national trend. All other states show similar trends where the metro and more populous areas tend to become more democratic. We will be focusing on those winnable competitive seats.
Q. There’s been concern about the possibility of gerrymandering. Any concerns you may have given we are a much more different looking and different thinking state than a decade ago? How does Her Term combat such an issue?
A. Our mission is recruiting candidates to run for office. We don’t really have that policy perspective or that advocacy perspective related to redistricting. Having said that, it does have a huge impact on the work we do. So, we are very concerned. The redistricting committee is very partisan, which spells a lot of disadvantage, you know, especially if you
want fair and equitable results. So it is concerning. But because of the census and the trends that show the more diverse, the more democratic the areas, we know that there will be some losses. Republicans, for instance, would have to say “okay, we’ll just give up this district or give up this area.”
When we look at the election results from 2020, we know there are quite a number of districts like the northern part of Cobb or Fulton, for example, where we know we had candidates running for office, but lost within the margins of sometimes in the teens. So those areas we will be looking at very closely in terms of how that will be redistricted and whether those would spell opportunities for us.
Q. Is there a common thread you’ve found among women who run for office?
A. Yes, they have shown community leadership in their past. Also, they have a very strong sense of wanting to do right for their community. It’s not to chase some glory or satisfy some personal ego, which for me is just extremely inspiring. Public service is often a very thankless job.
Q. Has it inspired you to want to run for office?
A. I know all of the challenges that running for office would entail and I would say, why not. It also inspires me to tell other people, young students, recent grads, even a five-year-old. I have a five-year-old who I tell “you can be a politician.” I have two daughters who are a lot of motivation for me to make sure their future is more bright than ours.
Interested in learning more or want to volunteer? Visit the Her Term website to find out more information. Are you thinking about running for office yourself? Let democracy reporter Tammy Joyner know.