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Women Legislators Speak Up About Representation      

By Staff | Aug 14, 2015

Recently, a number of women legislators agreed to share their insights about serving in the North Dakota Legislative Assembly.

None of them suggested that 30 percent of the men give their seats to women to equalize representativeness for 51 percent of the population now holding only 19 percent of the assembly. However, representativeness was a major theme.

Senator Judy Lee (R-West Fargo) put it quite directly: “I must tell you that I am not a fan of gender-specific categories.”

The veteran senator said she supported qualified people running for all offices, whether they were men or women.

“A broad representation from various careers, locations and background will help assure the best possible legislation,” she observed.

Senator Nicole Poolman (R-Bismarck) agreed that a variety of voices and life experiences is important.

Senator Erin Oban (D-Bismarck): “I don’t view the men vs. women thing as a choice between better or worse; it’s just different. More women would generate a different conversation and encourage more open dialogue.”

Rep. Kathy Hawken (R-Fargo) weighed in: “I would never claim that women have all of the correct answer s but I would contend that we have a different voice and it is important to have all of the voices in the discussion.”

Rep. Jessica Haak (D-Jamestown) noted that “considering that over half of the population is women, we are clearly underrepresented in the legislature and would benefit from having more female perspectives at the table.”

To this, Senator Jessica Unruh (R-Beulah) added that “women bring a different perspective to the table, just as people of a different age or race do.”

Agreeing on the need for broad representation, Rep. Kylie Oversen (D-Grand Forks) noted that “women offer a unique perspective that is underrepresented and often undervalued in policymaking.”

Is there a clear difference between the policy preferences of men and women?

According to Senator Joan Heckaman (D-New Rockford) there is. “Women provide a unique insight on issues that are close to women’s lives health, family, education..and especially child care.”

Rep. Gail Mooney (D-Cummings) says that “women in the legislature bring subtle, and yet profound, affects in the policy decisions”

How would women impact the way the legislature handles policy development?

Several legislators mentioned the unique ability of women to be collaborative and bipartisan.

Rep. Kathy Hawken (R-Fargo) noted that most of the issues in the legislature are not partisan in nature.

Rep. Gail Mooney said that women instinctively work for consensus and Senator Heckaman noted that women work in a more nonpartisan manner. (That observation has been validated by research.)

To qualify as a good candidate and also to prepare for legislative service, Mooney advises prospective candidates to get involved in local governing bodies and community organizations.

“The fastest road to leadership is to become engaged and fully involved. Join a board to learn the system,” she prompted.

Unruh stressed the importance of leadership, followed by dedication and passion for public service.

Haak pointed out that it was beneficial to have experience working in a group setting, whether it is an elective or appointive board. Senator Oban said it is important to build relationships.

Because of the low partisanship in the North Dakota legislature, personal relationships become very impactful. Who becomes as important as what.

Several offered other advice for women thinking of running for the legislature.

“Make sure you have the full support of your family,” advises Unruh. “Spouse, kids, parents, friends this is a team effort.”

Poolman, Oversen and Hawken all stressed the need for a strong network of supportive friends and family.

Unruh gave an insightful overview about legislative service: “Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”

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