The Year of the Woman?
By Mikel Chavers, CSG Associate Editor
Kansas Sen. Vicki Schmidt is not the type of female politician who screams, “I am woman, hear me roar.”
Instead, she prefers to focus on the issues. With more women serving in state government and running for office, maybe it’s time women in government just became part of the new normal.
“I want to think it’s more about the issues and my thoughts and my stands on issues than it is whether I’m male or female,” Schmidt said.
That’s not to say women don’t bring something different to the table, though, she said.
Nevada Supreme Court Justice Nancy Saitta agrees. She also doesn’t like to make public office a gender issue. Women in government need “to be examples or mentors to young women so they can learn to serve their community—to give back,” she said.
“Oftentimes, even today, women aren’t sure if they have to choose between a professional career and a family career,” Saitta said. She knows well the delicate balancing act of many women in state government. In law school, she was a single mom raising two of four children. “My balancing act began very early in my career,” she said. “The same sort of continued once I began running for office.”
Therefore, women bring a unique perspective to public service.
“Women approach problem-solving in different ways than men do. We tend to be—not always—but we tend to be more inclusive and we want everyone to be happy. We want everyone to understand and feel good about a vote they’re going to make,” Schmidt said.
“With more and more women serving in state legislatures, or at least in my legislature, it’s changed how a lot of my colleagues look at problem-solving.”
In fact, Schmidt is serving in a district with a history of female politicians. When she felt the call to public service back in 2004 to “throw her hat in the ring,” as she terms it, for the senate seat, she followed Lynn Jenkins, who went on to become state treasurer and eventually a U.S. congresswoman. Before Jenkins, another female held the post in the district.
Schmidt and Saitta will speak at the women in government session at The Council of State Governments’ 2010 National Conference in Providence, R.I., Dec. 3-6. The session is set for Dec. 5 from 2 to 3:30 p.m.
This year, women made history in state government. Voters in New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Carolina elected the first female governor ever in those states. Susana Martinez in New Mexico was the first Latina ever to run for governor, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics. Indian-American Nikki Haley was elected governor in South Carolina.