This year’s election has felt more divisive and caustic than previous elections. That’s no secret. So in such an environment, it’s helpful to focus on the positive: Women achieving public office.
On my ballot there are at least three women running for positions that a woman has never held before. I think that’s exciting.
- Jenny Halverson for mayor of West St. Paul.
- Angie Craig for U.S. House MN 2nd District (Minnesota has female representatives, but never in the 2nd District).
- Hillary Clinton for president (of course).
I think it’s worth talking about these potential milestones, regardless of your political leanings.
Let’s take a moment to address why celebrating this kind of diversity is important.
Current Diversity Stats
Congress is currently the most diverse it’s ever been. Yet it’s still only 20% female and 20% minorities. The U.S. as a whole is 51% female and 38% minority. While the representation is the best it’s ever been, we’ve got a ways to go. (Here’s what a fully representative Congress might look like, based on 2011 numbers.)
And that’s just Congress. The numbers are worse in state legislatures.
So we’re not perfectly diverse? What does that matter?
Why Diversity Matters
I have a white daughter and a black son, and I can say that seeing role models, leaders and even fictional characters who look like them is huge. “Hey, that person looks like me!” is a major moment. (One of the many reasons why I love Star Wars: The Force Awakens.)
There’s a litany of stories about the impact of Barack Obama as the first black president (and we’ll likely see many more). The iconic photo of Obama leaning over so 5-year-old Jacob Philadelphia can touch Obama’s hair and see if it feels like his own captures this idea perfectly.
My son has never known a world where a black man had never been president—that’s pretty cool. And my daughter is absolutely appalled that there have been 45 presidents and not a single one has been female. And she’s right.
In a world where racism, sexism, misogyny and hatred of all kinds have held people back (and the lasting impacts continue to hold people back), I think it’s important to celebrate forward progress.
Celebrating Minnesota Women in Politics
Minnesota has an impressive history when it comes to women in politics. Here are a few female firsts for Minnesota:
- St. Peter Mayor (1st female mayor in the state): Lillian Cox Gault (1921)
- Minnesota House: Myrtle Cain, Sue Hough, Hannah Kempfer, Mabeth Paige (1922)
- Minnesota Senate: Laura Naplin (1926)
- Minnesota Secretary of State (appointed): Virginia Holm (1952)
- U.S. House of Representatives: Coya Knutson (1954)
- Minnesota Secretary of State (elected): Joan Growe (1974)*
- Minnesota Supreme Court: Rosalie Wahl (1977)
- U.S. Senate (appointed): Muriel Humphrey (1978)
- Minnesota Lieutenant Governor: Marlene Johnson (1982)
- Minnesota Senate (1st Hispanic woman): Edwina Garcia (1992)
- Mayor of Minneapolis: Sharon Sayles Belton (1993)
- Minnesota House (1st black woman): Neva Walker (2000)
- Minnesota House (1st Asian woman): Mee Moua (2002)
- U.S. Senate (elected): Amy Klobuchar (2006)
- Minnesota Attorney General: Lori Swanson (2006)
- Minnesota Supreme Court (1st black woman; appointed): Wilhelmina Wright (2012)
- Minnesota House (1st Native woman): Susan Allen (2012)
- Mayor Minneapolis (1st white woman): Betsy Hodges (2013)
- Mayor of Duluth: Emily Larson (2015)
(In most cases, the years given are the year the person was elected; most took office the following year. And this is in no way an exhaustive list, I just tried to find some highlights.)
- Since 1982, Minnesota has had seven consecutive female lieutenant governors, but we’ve never had a female governor—and no major party has ever nominated a woman to run for governor of Minnesota. Why hasn’t Minnesota elected a female governor?
- Also, St. Paul has never had a female mayor: St. Paul needs more women in office.
- You must read the story of Minnesota’s first female member of Congress and the infamous “Coya Come Home” letter supposedly written by her husband—it’s a fascinating and horrifying story of sexism in politics.
- Also, fascinating history on women lawmakers in Minnesota (with national comparisons).
- * Virginia Holm was appointed to Secretary of State, but then won election in her own right in November 1952. Joan Growe gets the nod for first elected female Secretary of State, I guess because she wasn’t appointed first, which I suppose has inherent advantages.
Celebrating the 2016 Candidates
Let’s learn a little more about the potential firsts on my ballot (and I encourage you to chime in about potential firsts on your ballot):
I’ve blogged about Jenny Halverson’s campaign for mayor of West St. Paul. I think she brings long-term vision and investment to our city, helping us grow to face the coming challenges and not just stagnate. Halverson championed the revamp of Harmon Park, which has proven to be incredibly popular.
To be honest, I haven’t researched Angie Craig as much. I do know she champions education and had a successful career as a corporate leader with St. Jude Medical.
In addition to breaking the glass ceiling for the second district, Craig would also be Minnesota’s first LGBT member of Congress.
And finally, the ultimate glass ceiling, Hillary Clinton looks poised to take the White House. A lot of people hate Clinton, I get it. But I see her as a woman who has served her country her entire life. She knows her stuff and can dig into the fine details. Clinton has faced many hurdles and repeatedly proven that she can meet challenges and get things done.
And finally, let’s be clear that I’m not advocating voting for any candidate based solely on their gender or race. That shouldn’t need to be said, but in this climate I think it does. For example, Michelle MacDonald is on the ballot for Minnesota Supreme Court. She’s a political train wreck (and that article is from 2014). It’s a moot point because her opponent is a woman, but let’s just state the obvious that issues and character still matter.
And speaking of wider diversity, MacDonald’s opponent for the Minnesota Supreme Court is Natalie Hudson, who I think is the only person of color on my ballot (I qualify that because there are lots of judicial positions on my ballot and I have no idea who those people are and all of them are running unopposed). Minnesota is making slow progress on racial diversity (the first person of color we sent to Congress was Keith Ellison in 2006; also the first Muslim member of Congress). But we’re getting there: We’re poised to have the first Somali-American legislator in the U.S. with Ilhan Omar.
Update (Nov. 7, 2016):
Love this tidbit from MPR:
There have been only three women who have represented Minnesota in the U.S. House of Representatives: Coya Knutson (1955-59), Betty McCollum (2001-present) and Michele Bachmann (2007-2015). Today, the state has only one woman in the U.S. House, but that could change: Angie Craig is running to replace Rep. John Kline in the 2nd District and state Sen. Terri Bonoff is running against Rep. Erik Paulsen in the 3rd.