Political analysts are calling this year – in the wake of the #MeToo movement – the “year of the woman.”
Across the country, female candidates are running in record numbers for congressional seats and for positions in state legislatures. While Idaho has a long history of women in politics, this year's race for lieutenant governor will invariably net a historic first for the Gem State.
The story of female involvement in Idaho politics starts in 1896. That’s when Idaho became the fourth state to give women the vote. The moment the door opened, they started walking through, says Jaclyn Kettler, a political science professor at Boise State. In the election after getting the vote, she says three women were elected to the state legislature and a woman won the position of superintendent of public instruction.
While Idaho elected a woman to Congress in the early 1950s, it’s taken longer for women to make inroads at home. This year’s race between two female candidates for lieutenant governor is a first, but, as Kettler says, it’s also indicative of the political moment.
“It’s kind of a trend across the country this year,” says Kettler. “We’ve had a surge in women candidates – especially at the state executive level. Statewide positions have tended to be where women have been less present.”
Both Janice McGeachin and Kristin Collum are challenging that. Republican McGeachin was a player in state politics for years serving as a representative from the Idaho Falls area from 2002 to 2012. Her Democratic opponent, Collum, is an Army veteran and longtime worker in the tech field. This bid for lieutenant governor is her first run for public office.
Each candidate has vastly different reasons for running. McGeachin, who opened an Irish pub with her family after leaving the legislature, cites business regulation as a big motivator for her bid.
“After our experience starting up the pub, it’s a first-generation business as compared to our other businesses that are second-generation businesses, and just the amount of money, capital, time, resources that it takes – I’m concerned about that,” McGeachin says. “I want to make it easier for the up-and-coming generations to be able to realize their American dreams.”
For her part, Collum, who’s a mother of four daughters in their late teens and early 20s, says she feels like politics over the last couple years has disenfranchised her girls.
“The things that I felt like I was handing over to them as a parent have kind of been stripped away or lessened,” says Collum. “I’m a problem-solver. So, I’ve actually been very deep in my thoughts about how can I make the most difference, and the solution is from within the machinery that makes the law, and in Idaho that is in government. So, that’s why I’m running.”
Idaho has never had a female lieutenant governor; the successful candidate will have achieved the highest post in state government ever filled by a woman.
McGeachin and Collum are aware their race comes at an inflection point for women – the reverberations of the #MeToo movement continue to be felt.
“I understand that it’s real – the experience that many women have been through,” McGeachin says. “I myself have, you know – I’ve had to deal with unwanted attention from men. And I think it’s sad that some women have perhaps experienced even being placed in very devastating situations.”
McGeachin identifies a lot of anger in the movement. She says it’s the natural response when people have been hurt either physically or emotionally.
“But I think what’s important is that we don’t allow the anger to control ourselves,” says the longtime lawmaker. “We have to learn how to let that go and take that energy and put it into more productive efforts. Maybe that’s what we’re seeing manifested with so many women stepping forward into leadership positions. So I think that’s good; I think that’s positive.”
Throughout her time in the armed services, and while working in the private sector, Kristin Collum says she experienced subtle slights due to her gender.
“I would be one of a few women in the room in a meeting, and I would raise an idea and it would get ignored,” Collum recalls. “Then, a few minutes later, a male peer would say the same thing, and it would get acknowledged and supported when the male would say it. I’ve actually had some great male managers who noticed that and would say, ‘Kristin said this five minutes ago.’”
Collum, the Democrat in the race, describes #MeToo as a wakeup call for women to assess their progress over the last few decades and to realize they might not have come as far as they thought.
“We all have our stories – all of us,” Collum says. “I’ve not met a woman yet who hasn’t had her #MeToo story. And, I don’t want that for my daughters. I want them to be at parity.”
This November, voters will choose between two women to be a heartbeat away from Idaho’s top job. Not only will one be the first female lieutenant governor, but there’s a chance she could also be the first woman to assume the title of governor when filling-in for the executive when they’re out of state.
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