Aug 08 2011
By Rep. Kristi NoemIn 1916, our neighboring State of Montana sent the first woman to Congress. “I may be the first woman member of Congress,” Republican Jeannette Rankin said upon her election. “But I won’t be the last.”
Rankin was the eldest daughter of a rancher and a schoolteacher. She was born near Missoula, Montana in 1880. She graduated from Montana State University (now the University of Montana) in 1902 and attended the New York School of Philanthropy (later the Columbia University School of Social Work). She then worked in the social work field but eventually took on the cause of women’s suffrage. After helping win women in Montana the right to vote in 1914 she ran for office herself two years later and won.
Rankin’s election, 95 years ago, paved the way for over 275 women who have served in the U.S. House and Senate since then. I consider it an honor to follow in the footsteps of so many strong leaders, who also happen to be women.
I grew up in a family that didn’t believe there were certain tasks for the boys and others for the girls. My dad taught me how to drive a semi-truck and a combine, just like he did my brothers. I was expected to help with the chores – even the tough and dirty ones. I grew up thinking that I could do anything the boys could. And that way of thinking has stayed with me.
Over the years I helped run our family businesses, including our farm and ranch operation, a hunting lodge, and a restaurant. Although our businesses never grew so large that I could count myself as part of the women who now control 51 percent of the New York Stock Exchange, I always remembered what my dad said, and knew that I could work just as hard as the guys – my contribution was just as valuable.
A few years ago, with young kids still at home, I saw a need for someone with business and agriculture experience to get involved in the State Legislature. So I ran and won a seat there. I quickly realized that if I was going to spend that much time away from my kids and my family, then I was going to try and be as effective as possible – and that meant running for a leadership position in the legislature. So in my second term, I became Assistant Majority Leader in the South Dakota State House.
Then, I soon realized the place that really needed a person with some business common sense; the place that needed a person who has worked in agriculture and isn’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get to work – is in Washington, DC. So I ran for Congress last year on the platform that we need people to represent us with real life experience – experience running businesses, balancing the books, meeting a payroll, dealing with regulations and paying taxes.
I didn’t run because I am a woman. I didn’t expect people to vote for me because I am a woman. That never even entered my thought process. I worked to earn each vote talking with folks about their life experiences and my position on the issues. That’s what I knew mattered to most South Dakotans. And that’s what mattered to me.
Some in Washington attempt to politicize everything, even our gender. No wonder most folks are frustrated with politicians in Washington. Just as my dad taught me years ago, women here in South Dakota, and all across this country, care about the same things as most men. They are worried about the security of their job, if they have one. They are worried about finding a job, if they are looking for one. They are worried about the excessive spending we are engaging in and the overwhelming debt we are set to leave our children and grandchildren. They are worried about what new government regulation is around the corner that is going to try and control another portion of their lives or their small businesses.
I am supporting an agenda that is pro-woman because it is pro-small business, pro-job creator, pro-family and pro-economic growth. We need to cut burdensome regulation, fix the tax code, increase American competitiveness, and maximize our production of American-made energy. These reforms will help everyone – men and women – as we get our economy back on track. Hopefully we can then pave the way for the next generation of girls and boys to inherit a country as free and prosperous as the one given to us.
Rep. Kristi Noem is South Dakota’s lone U.S. Representative, elected in November 2010. She serves on the Agriculture, Education and Workforce and Natural Resources Committees.