Commentary

Women leaders needed in the Legislature — now | Opinion

Training June 17-18 in St. Cloud aims to help women run for office

June 17, 2022 6:00 am

State Sen. Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton, has been a leader on solutions to the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous and Black women. Without women lawmakers, who will pay attention to these issues? Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

There’s only one state in this country with a female majority in its state legislature, and unfortunately, it isn’t Minnesota.

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, women are 50.3% of the population but only hold about 36%  of the state legislative seats. The number is drastically lower for women of color, who are 18.2% of the Minnesota population but only 6.47% of the Legislature.

At the current place, it would take Minnesota more than two decades to reach gender equality in our Legislature, and it would be more than 60 years for the entire country to create a reflective democracy in our statehouses.   

Vote Run Lead is developing strategies to elect female majorities in all 50 statehouses through our RUN/51 program by focusing on three key bellwether states: New York, Georgia and my home state of Minnesota. 

Why are we focusing on state legislatures? Critical fights affecting women are taking place at the state level, from family leave and reproductive rights to voting access. There are key issues in Minnesota and our neighboring states that are overlooked at the federal level, including missing and murdered Indigenous women and paid sick and safe time.

It’s a critical time for reflective representation in Minnesota. Both of our Latina state senators are retiring, putting us at risk of losing almost all of our longstanding Latina representation if Maria Isa Pérez-Hedges is not elected to a House seat.

Twenty-one female legislators are retiring, a larger than average number of retirements due to redistricting and — as at least three women have said — because their male counterparts would not step aside when redistricted to cover their districts.

All seven Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota now fall within the 8th Congressional District instead of being divided across two, providing a voting power never before seen in our state.

Historically, Minnesota has never had a Black woman elected to our Senate. Now there are seven campaigning to break that barrier and build more inclusive representation in the chamber.

And, thrillingly, there is an increasing number of races where voters will decide between two women candidates, ultimately leading to more women in elected positions. 

Women’s representation matters because when women are elected to political office, we govern more efficiently: Budgets get passed on time and equitable economic policies are signed into law. We pass more legislation, we collaborate with our counterparts across the aisle, we bring more financing back to our home districts, and we develop more radical and equitable solutions.

Last year, we saw the creation of the Missing and Murdered Indigeonous Relatives Office and a task force on Missing and Murdered African American Women, which are being replicated across the nation. This wouldn’t have happened without powerful representation in the Legislature from Sen. Mary Kunesh and Reps Jamie Becker-Finn and Heather Keeler. 

Vote Run Lead’s trainings are meeting the moment by training women how to run for elected office in today’s political and social climate. We are hosting our first in-person training since the start of the pandemic this weekend, June 17-18, in St. Cloud, bringing together a powerful community of women who are ready to represent Minnesota.

The day and a half has been reworked to create more intimate and interactive environments for attendees with sessions on unlocking values, leadership for storytelling, the new rules of relational fundraising, action planning, and more. 

Most significantly, Vote Run Lead is the only national organization training women to run for political office to now train both future candidates and campaign managers.

We need women who understand our experiences not only as candidates but also as the leaders running our campaigns. There is a clear trend of young campaign managers at the state and local level, which is reflected nationally, and we are seeing strong interest in women who are interested in becoming campaign managers: At least a quarter of our attendees at this weekend’s training have enrolled in our campaign manager track.

The women who are trained by women to run for office through Vote Run Lead see success: In 2020, 48% more alumni ran than in 2018; 54% won their race, with 71% women of color candidates winning their races.

Only when we all support women can we make the changes we yearn to see in our government for our families, for our communities and for our state. We can — in just two election cycles — shift Minnesota to a female majority in our state Legislature. 

Sign up for the training here: If you aren’t able to attend the training but are interested in learning more, please contact [email protected] or 218-750-4885. 

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Beth Peterson
Beth Peterson

Beth Peterson, Minnesota state director of Vote Run Lead, is passionate about reducing poverty in rural, northeast Minnesota. She has successfully advocated for policy changes that affect the ability of women and girls to move to self-sufficiency, from early childhood education to access to non-traditional career pathways. Beth has run numerous political campaigns, and she served a term on the Eveleth City Council. Beth enjoys volunteering in the community with her spouse and three children.

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