By her own description, Lynn Schenk is a tough old political warrior.
She was transportation secretary in Jerry Brown’s first turn as governor, a member of Congress from San Diego, candidate for attorney general and Gov. Gray Davis’ chief of staff, none of it easy duty.
A few hours before Hillary Clinton made history by accepting the Democratic nomination, Schenk, a Clinton delegate, sat in the cavernous and packed Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and choked back tears.
If only her mother could be there, she said, tears welling. Elsa Schenk, born before women had the right to vote, wanted to see a woman become president. The closest she came was in the 2008 primary, when, crippled and blinded by a stroke, her daughter brought her a ballot and helped her vote for Clinton. She died soon after Barack Obama won, at 93.
I heard similar words all week from women of a certain age: exhaustion, disbelief, exhilaration, joy. The magnitude of the first woman nominee struck many of them during the roll call on Tuesday when her nomination became real. They thought they would never live to see it.
“I’ve been crying all week,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat, sitting close by Schenk. She, too, thought of her mother, who died last year. “This will be the first major national event that she will have missed.”
Some delegates knew Clinton from afar. Some had known Clinton from her days as first lady. Schenk had known Clinton since 1984 when they were involved in efforts to combat sexism ingrained in the practice of law.
“I just kept thinking about my mom and how thrilled she would be,” Schenk said.
On stage on the closing day of the Democrats’ show, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke about immigration. His successor as mayor, Eric Garcetti, addressed the hall about the virtues of working together. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom had taken the stage a day earlier, to rip Donald Trump.
Treasurer John Chiang addressed the California delegation at the Marriott in downtown Philly. Climate change warrior and Democratic financier Tom Steyer, America’s most accessible billionaire, was everywhere in Philadelphia.
Each is an announced likely or potential candidate for California governor in 2018. No woman is on the list. California will have two U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and whoever replaces Barbara Boxer, either Rep. Loretta Sanchez or, more likely, Attorney General Kamala Harris. Nancy Pelosi is House minority leader. But so far, no woman has stepped forward as even a potential contender to replace Jerry Brown in 2018.
“My god, you’re right. I hadn’t thought about that,” Schenk said.
Schenk looked around at the women in the California the delegation. Janice Hahn? The congresswoman lost a run for lieutenant governor in 2010 and is seeking a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Hilda Solis? She was a legislator and President Obama’s first labor secretary. She seems quite happy in her new job, Los Angeles County supervisor. Betty Yee? Maybe some day but she intends to run for a second term as controller.
“I don’t think we’ve prepared many women,” Yee said.
Over coffee at the Marriott, Kathleen Brown told a variation on the story of the week. She had watched the roll call with her teenage grandson and her brother Jerry on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center and teared up, “maybe because we’re all so tired.”
In 1994, Kathleen Brown was California treasurer and challenged Gov. Pete Wilson in his bid for re-election. She is bright, engaging and was steeped in the issue of the day, the economy. Her lead in early polls was so great that “60 Minutes” did a fawning profile of the probable next governor.
The 1994 election ended up turning on law and order and illegal immigration. Wilson won by more than 14 percentage points, and Brown gave up politics for a career in finance and law.
“Our paths are not linear. They might be for our brothers and fathers. But they aren’t for us,” Brown said. Among others, she noted voters perceive men as better equipped to handle the corner office issues of budget and security.
It’s no coincidence that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump emphasizes dangers we face here and abroad, and explicitly – absurdly – said in his acceptance speech that if he is elected, he would restore law and order on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2017.
Nor was it happenstance that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden told the convention that Clinton urged the president to take out Osama bin Laden when he had the chance, and that former CIA Director Leon Panetta vouched for Clinton’s toughness.
Early Friday morning, after Clinton had accepted the nomination, Schenk rode the bus back to the hotel and talked more about her mother.
“All around me,” she said, “women were bursting into tears.”
If Clinton wins in November, women will have pushed her over the top. A recent McClatchy/Marist poll showed her leading Trump by 19 percentage points among women. Clinton will remind voters of Trump’s sexist statements, judging women by their looks and their menstrual cycles. What must his daughters and wife and past wives think of what he has said?
Clinton shattered one barrier, having shown a remarkable ability to withstand attacks from the right and left. If she survives attacks coming in the next 99 days and crashes through the final barrier, she will be a testament to the proposition that no job is too big for a woman. Back here in California, however, the ceiling will remain cracked, but not broken, for a little longer.