Minnesota ranks fourth in nation for female legislators

Almost 35 percent of the state’s representatives are women.

Rebecca Bentz

For women interested in politics, Minnesota might be one of the best places to run for office.

The state ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of female legislators at the state level, according to data from the Women’s Legislative Network of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Women make up 34.8 percent of the Minnesota Legislature, with 40.3 percent in the Senate and 32.1 percent in the House of Representatives.

At the top of the ranking were Vermont (37.2 percent), New Hampshire (36.2 percent) and Colorado (35 percent).

For many, Minnesota’s ranking shows that the state is progressing.

“At one time I said that for a woman to get somewhere, she has to be twice as good as a man. I don’t think that’s true anymore,” said Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis. “There is a new class of legislators; highly competent people of both sexes. The Legislature isn’t an old boys’ club anymore.”

Kahn said when she first ran for a seat in 1972, there was one woman in the state legislature. Six more women were elected that year, including Kahn, and since then the number of female legislators has continued to grow.

The changing gender dynamic is also noticeable in the legislative staff, Kahn said.

Whereas at one time legislative assistants were all women, there is now an integrated mix of both genders.

Political science and sociology junior Kari Johnson said women in the legislature are very powerful.

“They’re very passionate about what they have on their agendas,” she said. “They’re active and they get things done.”

Johnson, who interns at the state Capitol, also said female legislators are good role models.

“They show that you can be a woman, a strong woman, and take charge to change the face of Minnesota for the better,” she said.

Political science junior Jenna Haring expressed similar sentiments about women in the Legislature.

“They’re career women and really good leaders,” she said. “They’re examples for people to see, instead of people like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie.”

Rep. Carol McFarlane, R-White Bear Lake, said women bring a different outlook to the legislative process that makes them important.

“A woman’s perspective is sometimes needed to bring balance to the decisions that are made down here,” Farlane said. “It’s my background and those life experiences that help me to understand a lot of the bills brought forward and the situations that many citizens are dealing with.”

Some hope the number of women in legislative roles continues to grow.

“Minnesota overall has a great moralistic and political culture,” Johnson said. “We’ve kind of taken charge in leading the way for many different things: education, renewable energy. I don’t see why women can’t be up there leading the way.”