Not so long ago, the outlook for women in Idaho politics was bleak.
Last September, a study done by the finance website WalletHub listed Idaho as 41st in the nation for “political empowerment” for women, based on the number of Idaho women elected to Congress, the state Legislature and statewide executive positions.
However, just two short months after the study was released, female politicians won big time during November’s midterm elections. Even in terms of nominations, it was a woman’s world with two female nominees for Idaho lieutenant governor, the first female nominee from a major party for governor, two female nominees for state superintendent and dozens of female nominees for other positions.
In fact, the Idaho Statesman reported that during Idaho’s 2018 primaries the only male candidates who won from either major party were in races where there was not a female candidate running a serious campaign.
The number of women in the Idaho Legislature is increasing every year and currently stands at 32. About one-third of Idaho’s lawmakers are women.
Things are even looking up for women in politics in many cities and counties around the state.
For example, half of the members of Pocatello’s City Council are now female. Three years ago the council had no female members.
All across East Idaho, women are stepping up and moving into positions of political power, which Kelley Packer, the recently appointed director of the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licenses and a former state lawmaker, said is a vital part of the shift.
“More women are trying,” said Packer, a McCammon native. “For the longest time they just didn’t. They took more time with family. And I’m not saying family is being put on the back burner. Women are just starting to realize that they can do both.”
Julianne Young, a newly elected state representative from Blackfoot, is one of those women.
Young is a mother of 10 and and seven of her children still live at home, meaning she now sees them only on the weekends, spending her week days with the Idaho Legislature in Boise.
However, Young said the sacrifice has been worth it.
“I’ve always been a person that believed that it’s important to be involved,” she said. “And now I have new perspectives and insights and things that I can share with (my children) as a mom that I hope make a difference. I hope (my children) grow up valuing opportunities to contribute and public service and what it means to be an American.”
Packer said she believes another big factor in the rising number of female politicians in Idaho is an increase in encouragement from men and women alike.
“We’re seeing more support, which I think is helping women to feel more comfortable in putting their name in the running,” Packer said. “They’re finally getting the support, and that leads to confidence, so more of them are stepping up.”
Janice McGeachin, the Idaho Falls native who was elected in November as the state’s first female lieutenant governor, said she is determined to help other Idaho women get elected.
“I would just like to be supportive of other women and their efforts,” McGeachin said. “I want to show them we can be successful no matter what we do.”
McGeachin added that the state is making efforts to educate its politicians about sexual harassment, something that deters women from seeking political positions, and one of the factors measured in WalletHub’s report.
“In the Legislature, part of the new member orientation dealt with sexual harassment,” McGeachin said. “They give different scenarios of whether it’s a lobbyist or an intern or a colleague and what is considered appropriate and what is not and how to respond to it. I think people in Idaho take it very seriously and are doing what we need to do to prevent any kind of abuse or wrong behavior.”
Packer said she is hopeful that in time, Idaho will see an equal number of male and female politicians.
“Any time that you have a change like this, people start getting used to it,” Packer said. “I believe that you’ll continue to see an increase (in female politicians in Idaho) and I think that we’ll eventually find a balance. I think it’s going to become the norm.”
You can review the report from WalletHub at https://wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-states-for-women-equality/5835/.