Women still rare in local politics PDF Print E-mail
Written by KAREN NADLER COTA Sentinel Lifestyles Editor   
Thursday, 13 March 2014 10:54
File photo. Doris Herringshaw. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
PERRYSBURG - The hide of a rhinoceros, a well-filled purse, and children at the right age.
All three come in handy if you're thinking of a career in Wood County politics. Also, you might want to invest in several pairs of comfortable shoes.
That was the take-home message from an often frank, and engaging, panel discussion titled "Women Engaged in Public Service" held Tuesday night at Way Public Library and hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Perrysburg Area.
Panelists included Doris Herringshaw, the newest Wood County commissioner; Jill Engle, long-time Wood County treasurer; and Sara Weisenburger, who served about six months as a Perrysburg City Council member before being defeated in the November election.
Serving as moderator was Dr. Shannon Orr, a faculty member from Bowling Green State University, who led off with a brief history of women office-holders in Ohio, and then wrapped-up the evening with a few ideas for how to get more women to run for public office.
"Almost as soon as women secured the right to vote, in 1920, Ohioans elected women to the General Assembly," Orr pointed out, starting with six women in the 1923-24 session.
Ohio was the first state in the nation to elect a woman to a state Supreme Court, and in 1940 sent Republican Frances Payne Bolton to Congress.
"Then the momentum seemed to fizzle," and "after peaking at 24 percent in the 1990s, the percentage of seats held by women in Ohio's state legislature has actually dropped," Orr pointed out.
Weisenburger, the youngest of the three public servants on the panel, said she had to overcome several concerns before she allowed the local Republican Party to appoint her to fill a vacant seat on Perrysburg City Council last June.
"I'm a very private person," and Weisenburger said she felt it necessary to consider the impact on her husband's professional reputation as well as their three children, who are still quite young. In the end, she felt the children's ages were a plus, with no fallout for them.
"I was pretty new to Perrysburg; we moved here in 2009, so that was another one of my concerns."
"Something I was kind of surprised by was how much it cost to run for office," Weisenburger added. "I made a budget, stuck to it, spent the least amount of any candidate" in November's election when she had to run to hold onto the seat she had occupied for half a year. "Maybe that's why I didn't win," she added ruefully.
She focused on print media and Facebook but found door-to-door canvassing "very difficult. I always felt like I was bothering people," a message reinforced by barking dogs and frightened children.
"It's very difficult to engage people, especially people my age," said Weisenburger, who took her 4-year-old along part of the time she was canvassing.
Herringshaw, too, found going door-to-door mentally and physically exhausting. But "I've had friends who say 'When you're in my town let me know and I'll go door-to-door with you,'" Herringshaw said. "It's amazing the difference. People will open doors for people they know."
Women in politics seem to have to consider their children more than men do, even in 2014.
Herringshaw's children were grown and gone before she ran for commissioner. Engle, who was hired by the county commissioners at age 18, later had to quit that job when her oldest child was seriously ill. Some years later she ended up being rehired by the county, which eventually put her in line to be offered the treasurer's slot by party elders.
"You basically run 24-7," Engle said.
Weisenburger agreed. "The job on council was a fraction of the time it took to run, which is kind of a shame."
The women all spoke of getting into politics primarily because others suggested they would be good prospects.
Both Engle and Herringshaw were privately encouraged to run by Republican Party leaders, and that was enough to prompt them to enter the arena.
Orr noted that fact. "How do we get more women to run for office? There's a clear message here: We need to ask them to run," she emphasized.
Although Herringshaw's 35-year career was with Wood County's Ohio State University Extension, both her father and grandfather were county commissioners.
"Growing up I was used to going to dinners, driving across bridges to see what kind of shape they were in, putting up signs, taking down signs," she said.
Still, before deciding to run she sought female mentors who had "been there, done that," especially Marilyn Baker, the first female Wood County commissioner back in the 1970s.
She was warned by Bowling Green's Colleen Smith that she was "going to have to have a lot thicker skin."
"Don't take anything personally," Engle advised. "I had one guy" who confronted her in the office, arguing: "The Bible says don't collect taxes."
"Three different people commented that I should be at home with my children, not on council," said Weisenburger. As a stay-at-home mom who doesn't use day care, "that was very frustrating."
But in the end, "you're very fortunate to be in politics," she said, and the part of the job she enjoyed most was responding to individual citizen requests for assistance.

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