For the first time in history, women are leading both majority caucuses in the Minnesota Legislature.
When lawmakers convened in January, Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, retained her leadership role as House speaker, while Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, was elected the new Senate majority leader.
This leadership advancement for women occurred 165 years after Minnesota became a state and 103 years after American women were granted the right to vote.
Should we conclude that women’s barriers to serving in government office have fallen? As a St. Paul resident, I’m exclusively represented by women in policy-making positions.
In Congress, I’m represented by U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, while Betty McCollum is my U.S. House member. In the Minnesota Legislature, my lawmakers are second-term Rep. Athena Hollins and freshman Sen. Clare Oumou Verbeten. Trista MatasCastillo is my Ramsey County commissioner, and I live in the ward of St. Paul City Council President Amy Brendmoen.
Women have fared well politically in St. Paul, but that example isn’t replicated widely across the state or nation.
After more than a century of women’s suffrage, why has the U.S. presidency been solely the domain of men? Why haven’t Minnesota’s two dominant political parties produced a woman governor?
2023 will be a fascinating year to watch whether any women dare to challenge Joe Biden and Donald Trump for their party nominations for president.
How many Americans are excited about a rematch between Trump, who’ll turn 78 in June 2024, and Biden, who’ll turn 82 shortly after the 2024 election? There are qualified women in both political parties who’ve served as a governor, U.S. senator or U.S. House member who could make strong White House bids in the 2024 cycle.
While Minnesota doesn’t have a term limit for the office of governor, if history is a guide, it’s unlikely that Tim Walz would seek a third term in 2026. Statewide wins by Klobuchar and Smith demonstrate that a woman candidate could be elected governor, perhaps as soon as 2026.
Among the 50 U.S. states, 12 women are currently serving as governor—eight Democrats and four Republicans.
In Minnesota’s judicial and legislative branches, women secured top jobs back in the 1990s. Republican Gov. Arne Carlson named Kathleen Blatz chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1998. Meanwhile, Democrats elected Rep. Dee Long the first woman House speaker in 1992.
At an event I moderated at the College of St. Benedict in 2016, Tina Smith acknowledged that there is a “tougher hill to climb” for a woman to get elected governor.
“People feel differently about electing women to executive office than they do about electing women to legislative office,” Smith said, because they ponder what it would be like for a woman “to be in charge of everything.”
Smith told an audience of largely women students that she often heard people say: “I’d love to vote for a woman for governor as long as she is capable” of doing the job. Based on that reality, Smith emphasized the need for women to clearly convey their qualifications and achievements to the voting public.
In 2023, women are still in the minority in the Minnesota Legislature as they hold 76 of the 201 seats in the House and Senate, which translates to 37.8%. Four decades ago, it was 28 seats or 13.9%.
To increase their ranks in elected offices, women can employ a few key strategies:
Don’t wait to be asked to run for office: Some women underestimate their talent and experience, and they don’t put themselves forward as candidates. They assume multiple people should recruit them to validate their worthiness as candidates.
Don’t let age be a barrier to a candidacy: Young legislators recently fielded questions about their ages on the campaign trail, but they didn’t allow that scrutiny to deter them from running. Women also can begin their bids for elected office in their 50s or 60s. There isn’t a perfect age for a candidacy.
Be ready when opportunities arise: Women who want to serve may need to challenge incumbents, but they also should be prepared for unexpected vacancies. When it became clear that Al Franken would resign his U.S. Senate seat, Tina Smith accepted a Senate appointment. She began serving in early 2018 with the knowledge that she’d have to stand for election in November 2018 and then run again in 2020.
Demonstrate a willingness to negotiate: Historically many women lawmakers have shown an ability to work across the political aisle and make reasonable compromises to pass bills. That pragmatic approach is an electoral advantage.
Communicate a relevant, coherent vision: Voters want to be heard and see their officeholders make their communities better. If women candidates articulate a positive agenda and get results, they are positioned to succeed in multiple elections.
Liz Fedor is an editor at Twin Cities Business. She previously was a reporter and editor for the Star Tribune and Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald.