Illinois state comptroller Susana Mendoza was the keynote speaker at SIU’s Celebrate Women event and afterwards she sat down with the Daily Egyptian to talk about why it is important for women to have a voice when it comes to elections and what the nation can do to empower women.
DE: You talked a lot in your speech about why you feel it is important for women to get out there and vote, especially now since election season is in full swing. Tell me a little bit about why you feel it is so important for women to get out to the polls and vote?
Susana Mendoza: I think that women have historically been such a huge part of major monumental shifts. In thinking and in individual policies, women were at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. For all the work men were doing in that, it took a brave woman [Rosa Parks] to move out of that seat.
Women have been at the forefront of all of these massive struggles for civil rights and for changes. In 2016, we had a chance to elect the first woman president and it didn’t work out but the aftermath of that sparked so many women to wake up and get involved.
Women who didn’t think it mattered are now incredibly cognizant of the fact that elections have consequences and not voting is essentially giving up your power. You are consciously deciding to give your power away to someone else and to make decisions for you. Even if the person you voted for didn’t win, you still went out and did your civic duty.
If more women vote, we could actually elect more women into office and it would bring a whole different mentality to the job. Women have to make themselves represented at the voting box.
DE: Since March is Women’s History Month, how does an event like this [Celebrate Women] help to empower women and encourage them in academia?
SM: When the girls who are in this room are getting these scholarships, they see themselves reflected and people have to see that. There used to be a time where you’d only see the male professors representing these different areas of academia.
If you choose to not be in a more traditional role, if we never see women in those spots, then you almost think it is an impossible feat. Nothing should be impossible for women in 2020. I think seeing female professors or female doctorates here that are leading divisions or departments is just something that becomes common and no young lady that goes to school here should ever think the things they want to accomplish are impossible.
These types of events highlight that and remind us that even when we think things are tough and probably not going to happen for us, there’s no reason why we should think that way.
DE: You talked a lot about the Equal Rights Amendment in your speech. Can you tell me a little bit about that and why it took so long for it to get passed?
SM: I have no idea why it took so long to get passed. It is ridiculous to me that it took so long to get passed. It’s a question we always asked ourselves when we were in the legislature.
Why did it take Illinois so long to pass it when we were the first state to ratify it? There’s no legitimate or reasonable explanation for a lot of the wrongs or injustices that are happening in the world today but the fact that there are now so many more women in the Illinois legislature who aren’t taking no for an answer is the reason why the ERA finally passed in Illinois.
DE: You also mentioned in your speech about maternity leave in the state of Illinois. Do you think more could be done to ensure that women have more time off for maternity leave?
SM: Anyone who’s ever had a child knows how difficult it is to raise one. If you’re a woman, you’re still healing after giving birth. In my case, I had a C-section. [When I was pregnant] the city of Chicago had no maternity policy. So, if you had a baby, whatever time you took, it was on your own dime.
People had to exhaust all their sick time or vacation time and it was a male mayor at the time who took action to institute a paid maternity leave for the city of Chicago employees.
Even for a natural birth, there could be complications that make it hard to get back to work and in full swing. That time you have to bond with your baby is so critical from an early childhood development perspective.
I think whatever we can do to encourage families to be together in those really critical moments is only going to improve families and outcomes down the road. People shouldn’t have to be fighting for maternity or paternity leave.
DE: Tell me a little bit about Senate Bill 2456 and the approval to eliminate exit bonuses for legislators and how you came to the decision to approve it.
SM: Well, that was an easy decision once I realized that I had to pay corrupt politicians for an entire month’s salary even if they only worked one day. I don’t think it was really common knowledge to people that if a legislator said they were resigning on the first of the month that they were actually paid, by law, for the entirety of that month even if they did not work a minute of it.
Now that I am the comptroller and I am the one who has to pay the bills, I was happy to see these legislators leave.
When I found out we had to cut checks for them for the entire month of their resignation day being the first of the month, I thought it was so wrong on so many levels. It is disgusting. It’s shameful and it needs to stop.
The bill passed in the senate committee yesterday unanimously, Democrats and Republicans coming together to acknowledge that this is crazy. It is going to move to the senate floor where I expect it will just as easily pass through.
Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Staff reporter Bethany Rentfro can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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March 6, 2020 at 09:24AM