The Minneapolis Star Tribune notes ruefully that women have, indeed, achieved parity in Minnesota politics. But the result is not quite what the feminists had in mind:
Whenever Minnesota’s top elected officials gather these days, women are well represented — not a terrible surprise in a state historically known for its liberalism. What’s unexpected is that Minnesota’s female political powerhouses are mostly conservative Republicans.
The state’s pace-setting Republican women include Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, State Auditor Patricia Anderson and Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz.
Meanwhile, an outspoken corps of conservative GOP women in the state Legislature is leading or has led efforts to ban gay marriage, to make public-school standards tougher and more traditional, and to allow more citizens to carry handguns.
Conservative women in Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s cabinet, such as Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke and Health Commissioner Dianne Mandernach, are also stirring controversy and making headlines. The irony is profound. Most of the female pioneers who forced open the doors to public office from the 1970s on were liberal DFLers or moderate Republicans. But it’s now conservative women who are charging through those doors and becoming dominant figures in politics and policy.
“We just got really tired of this notion that only liberal women need apply, that the women’s voice was equal to the liberal voice,” said Kiffmeyer, who was elected in 1998 and is considered a possible congressional candidate in the northern suburbs.
“These are traditional American women, women of character, competent women who think for themselves,” said Katherine Kersten, a senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiment and perhaps the leading conservative woman intellectual on the Minnesota stage.
[DFLers] acknowledge losing ground and admit to worrying about it. “Clearly we are failing and need to take a good, hard look at ourselves,” said state Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, a veteran liberal.
In the Legislature last year, both of the key sponsors of legislation that allowed more people to get permits to carry guns were women: Sen. Pat Pariseau and Rep. Lynda Boudreau. This year, the lead authors of the bill for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage are again Republican women: Sen. Michele Bachman and Rep. Mary Liz Holberg.
The advances of conservative women extend into the realm of local government, interest groups and public-policy advocacy. Strong players in those fields include: Hennepin County Commissioner Penny Steele, a conservative voice in Minnesota’s largest local government; Kersten, of the Center of the American Experiment, who is a frequent contributor to opinion pages and policy journals; Linda Runbeck, a top leader of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota; and Annette Meeks, public-affairs director for the Center of the American Experiment and a member of the Metropolitan Council.
The Strib is right: the ascendancy of conservative women is one of the key stories in contemporary Minnesota politics. Almost every one of the women named in the Strib’s article is a friend of ours, and many of them will be our guests on the Northern Alliance Radio Network in the weeks to come.