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A Legislature that Values Women’s Rights

January 10, 2013 By Lauren Beecham, Guest Commentary

When Minnesota's House Speaker gaveled open the session Tuesday, the Minnesota legislature looked and felt very different than it has the past two years.

This legislature is the result of a long, and at times seemingly unending, two-year electoral season full of special elections, retirements and redistricting. The Election Night results last November shook the Capitol, overturning conservative control of both chambers and installing a progressive majority.

Women led the charge that swept new majorities into Minnesota's House and Senate. And the policy goals they hope to achieve will truly strengthen families and rights for all citizens and communities across the state.

Womenwinning has been watching and walking with these women from the very start of their campaigns. We stood by our candidates as they campaigned with determination, passion, and savvy, delivering a message of necessary change and reason to their districts across the state. These women ran impressive campaigns which we know is a true testament to how they will govern at the State Capitol for the next two years and beyond.

When women run for office, they win. The 2012 election validated this adage.  Womenwinning endorsed 88 women on the general election ballot in November from local school board races to Senator Klobuchar’s U.S. Senate reelection bid.  All of these women endorse the policy priorities we advocate relating to women's reproductive rights. An astounding 62 womenwinning candidates won.

Even more exciting and encouraging, is that of the 88 women who were on the ballot, 36 were running for the very first time. Womenwinning encouraged many of these first-time candidates to run because they demonstrated the drive it takes to run for office and win and the experience it takes to govern well. With further convincing and support of friends, family, trusted advisors and colleagues, we helped develop these women candidates to ensure they not only ran, but sprinted for office.

These women were elected because of their collaborative leadership styles. Each one brings unique life experiences and perspective to the government bodies in which they now serve. Political science research tells us that women are more likely than their male counterparts to introduce and champion legislation that impacts women and families. Men certainly may vote for them, but women bring these policy priorities to the table in the first place.

Electing women is why we have pay equity laws, financial aid for college aimed at protecting part-time women students, funding for workforce training programs, anti-human trafficking laws and laws to combat domestic violence. This list of legislation is proof that a woman's voice in the policy debate makes a difference.

In other words, these women have got our backs.

In reflecting on this most recent election, we think back to just 40 years ago when there were only six women serving at the State Legislature. Today, there are 65 women. Although power in numbers is impressive, we are even more encouraged because women are also in positions of power within political structures. In 2013, women at the legislature will rise to leadership holding some of the most powerful caucus positions.

This is why we do the work we do at womenwinning. Recruiting and electing women isn’t just about increasing the count – it’s about what women do once they are elected. In the words of Anita Hill, the keynote speaker at our Annual Event last June, “Electing women is good for everyone; womenwinning is good for everyone.”

Last November, women changed the balance of power at the Capitol, and now these women will move Minnesota forward changing the way the legislature works for all of us for the future. But the work isn't over. We need to encourage more women who support strengthening the status of all women, families, and communities to step forward. At womenwinning, we are already hard at work doing just that—recruiting and developing the next class of pro-choice women running for office in Minnesota.

Lauren Beecham is womenwinning's executive director.

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