With few candidates and 1 senator, Congress is a frontier for North Dakota's womenTwo North Dakota women who have announced their bids for the 2012 U.S. Congressional election have also joined an exclusive club. They are two of eight North Dakota women to run for U.S. Congress in more than 50 years.
By: By April Baumgarten, The Dickinson Press
Two North Dakota women who have announced their bids for the 2012 U.S. Congressional election have also joined an exclusive club. They are two of eight North Dakota women to run for U.S. Congress in more than 50 years.
“Isn’t it ridiculous that (women) are 51 percent of the population and yet we’re only 14 percent of the state legislature and 17 percent in U.S. Congress?” said Renee Stromme, North Dakota Women’s Network executive director. “We can’t be complacent about this.”
Bette Grande, a Republican from Fargo, and Democrat Pam Gulleson, Rutland, are running for U.S. House. Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, former North Dakota general attorney and tax commissioner, announced she is considering a run for U.S. Senate.
“I’ve always felt that we should always have more women serving in public office across the board,” Gulleson said. “It’s heartening that we are seeing more women stepping up on the statewide races and federal races.”
Having three potential women running for Congress may seem unusual, North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger said. However, it isn’t the first time a woman has run.
Past House candidates include Agnes Geelan in 1956; Rosemary Landsberger, 1968; Lois Altenburg, 1984; Anna Bella Bourgois, 1992; and Jan Shelver in 2000, according to Jaeger. Bourgois also ran for Senate in 1982 and 1986, and Donna Nalewaja ran in 1998. No women have been elected to U.S. Congress from North Dakota.
“It has changed over the years,” Jaeger said. “(Women) have become more aware, and they are more involved. They know that they can step in and run for these offices.”
Nalewaja said there was no reason a woman shouldn’t have been elected when she ran for Congress. She added it is harder for a woman to run against an incumbent.
“A woman has a greater chance (on an open seat) than running against an incumbent,” Nalewaja said. “It should be a good year for women to run on a national ticket.”
Only one North Dakota woman has served in the U.S. Congress. Jocelyn Burdick was appointed to the Senate seat by Gov. George Sinner after her husband, Sen. Quentin Burdick, died in office. She served from Sept. 16, 1992 to Dec. 14, 1992 when Sen. Kent Conrad was elected.
It’s an opportunity for women, Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Dickinson, said.
“It’s kind of a man’s game at this point,” Johnson said. “It takes courage for them to put their name out there.”
Grande said she hopes voters do not vote for a person because of gender.
“I don’t want someone to look at me and say, ‘It’s a woman in the race,’” Grande said. “I want someone to look at me and say, ‘I want to follow those ideas.’”
Voters tend to vote for the most qualified candidates, Johnson said. The problem for women running for office is the time and dedication for a campaign.
“Women tend to be the caregivers at home,” Johnson said. “When you have children at home, it makes it difficult to run for office.”
Stromme said she hopes voters are excited women are running.
“Wouldn’t that just be great that on the ticket for two seats, three of the four candidates were women?” Stromme said. “I hope that seeing these three women putting themselves forward for national offices inspires women to seek local offices.”
Gulleson said the reception of her bid has been positive. Though she said she was challenged when running for office in previous years, she feels that women are overcoming those challenges.
“I’ve always felt like people want to see women run,” Gulleson said. “Across the board, men and women contribute in really positive ways and both should be encouraged to run.”
Nalewaja had a word of advice for women running for Congress or any office: Candidates need to get out of their comfort zone.
“Women shouldn’t just stick to women and family issues,” Nalewaja said. “They need to take a look at where we are going as a nation as far as foreign policy and economics. Family issues and women issues will follow.”