CLINTON, SC (courtesy presby.edu) — Inez Tenenbaum and S.C. Rep. Mandy Norrell talked about their experiences and careers in government during the annual Samuel C. Waters Lecture Series held recently at Presbyterian College.
During the event, “Making History through Her Story: South Carolina Women in Politics,” the women spoke about how their passion for people and government led them from their hometowns to the chamber walls of the S.C. Legislature and Washington, D.C.
Tenenbaum is former chair of the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, former S.C. Superintendent of Education and 2004 candidate for the U.S. Senate. Norrell is the current representative of District 44 in the S.C. House and was a 2018 candidate for S.C. lieutenant governor.
Making a Difference
Tenenbaum has been a candidate for several statewide offices including lieutenant governor, state superintendent of education and U.S. Senate. She said running for those elections gave her “so much insight,” and she told those at the lecture she hopes she will be able to encourage others to take on the challenge of politics.
“Whether you speak out as a politician, community volunteer or professor — whatever your position is — you can make a difference if you speak your truth to power,” Tenenbaum said.
Born in Hawkinsville, Georgia, she said she’s often asked how she began in politics, what motivates her, and what it is like being a woman candidate.
She talked about gathering around the table with her family as a child to discuss the news of the day. Tenenbaum said during that time, people didn’t openly say who they voted for, but she knew it was important to exercise that right.
She also remembers watching the Democratic and Republican National Conventions when she says nominees were chosen live on the floor, something she called a “thrilling” experience for her.
Norrell, of Lancaster, S.C., shared how her roots shaped her life in public policy, as well. Her family has an agricultural background, and both of her parents worked at Springs Mills. Norrell also later worked at the mill to help fund her way through college.
“People would come by my station and say, ‘You have an opportunity to go to college and do something great. Take advantage of every opportunity that you have,’” Norrell said.
Norrell, like Tenenbaum, earned her law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law. She became city attorney in her hometown before a run for office. She ran for a state Senate seat in 2008 and has served in the House since 2012.
This year, Norrell has introduced 15 sexual assault bills, including legislation involving sexual assaults on college campuses.
“There are things we have to think about that men don’t have to think about as much, and I think that’s why we’re naturally inclined to file these kinds of bills,” she said.
“And also, we’ve been underrepresented so that’s naturally why these kinds of bills have not been filed in the past so I’m hoping to right some of those wrongs from the past, the things that have been overlooked in terms of sexual assault.”
Pursue Your Passion
Tenenbaum was a teacher before her career in government. She later worked at the Department of Social Services and served in the Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee of the S.C. House.
“That was the most transformative job I’d ever had in my whole life. It made me just realize this was my calling to work with public policy,” she said.
“… Whether you’re pursuing a public office or corporate leadership position, it’s just so important to pursue your passion. I found out early on my passion was – and continues to be – that I wanted to improve the lives of children.”
Both panelists also answered questions, including one about the challenges women candidates face. Both mentioned how women can be questioned and criticized in ways men are not. They told stories at the event of being asked about things like their stature and their families.
Tenenbaum said, however, she got cross-sectional support during her career and tried to move on from sexism if she saw it. She added, while the campaign trail can be tiring, a career in government is rewarding.
“There’s nothing better if you love politics. It’s like being a racehorse: When they ring that bell, you’re going to run to the track,” she said.
Samuel C. Waters, a 1968 PC graduate and an attorney in Columbia, S.C., established the Waters Lecture Series in Political Science. The annual lecture series highlights the value and relevance of the study of politics by hosting guest speakers to address contemporary political and policy issues.