On the very cold morning back in early February, LINC had the pleasure of sending eight female staff members to Idaho Women in Leadership’s Day at the Capitol. The day started before the sun had come up, as women from all over Idaho gathered into the Crystal Ballroom in the Hoff Building in downtown Boise, for breakfast and an Executive/Legislative Update and Panel Discussion. The panel was comprised of Governor Brad Little, Senator Brent Hill, Senator Michelle Stenett, Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb and Representative Megan Blanksma and was moderated by Carolyn Holly.
The discussion was started by Holly asking each panelist about the ah-ha moment that lead them to where they are today. Govenor Little came from a political family. Senator Hill did not, but he was fascinated with politics since the Nixon/Kennedy debate, and would sit in front of the television during elections and fill in states red and blue as the results came in. Senator Buckner-Webb, a seventh generation Idahoan, wanted to get engaged and involved first as an officer in school and through volunteering. She stated that she’s more of an activist than a politician and here to disturb the peace, which got a good laugh and applause. Senator Michelle Stenett said that she was an unlikely politician. She came from an activist and nonprofit background, but when her husband passed away, she was appointed to his seat. Representative Megan Blanksma was a volunteer on a campaign for Governor Little, and when her seat came up for election, she beat out the seven-term incumbent and won with 72% of the vote.
There was some time to open the floor to questions. After the first question about the issues with education, privatized correctional facilities, and the Medicaid Expansion. Holly pointed out that the panel had not been told about any questions, so we might be surprising them, but Senator Hill stated that they go to 4th and 5th grade classes come up with harder questions, so nothing will surprise them. A take-away from the morning panel was that both the Senate and House are working together, regardless of party, to service the people and communities of Idaho. One panelist said, “[I] wanted to drain the swamp of Boise, [but there is] no swamp because everyone wants the best for their community.”
After our breakfast panel, all the participants made their way over to the Capitol building. After taking a group picture on the front steps, everyone was able to wander around the Capitol and sit in on committee hearings. A group of us were able to sit in on the Education House Committee, and hear about changes with the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Action Center and what they are doing with schools across the state, from STEM fairs to classes for teachers to help integrate STEM into their classrooms. The group was divided into two, one group going to the House and one group going to the Senate. Each group was able to attend the opening of both, and how bills were being voted on, or in the case of the redistricting bill in the House, send back to the committee for more review.
For lunch, we headed back to the Hoff building to hear local women in leadership positions in the Treasure Valley. The panel consisted of, Debbie Kling, Mayor of Nampa; Kendra Kenyon, Ada County Commissioner; Heather Lewis, seat on the Nampa School District Board of Trustees, Vice President of her children’s elementary school and the President Elect of the Idaho Academy of Physician Assistants; Melina Smyser, leads Idaho Office of Drug Policy; Connie Miller, President/CEO of Icon Credit Union; and moderated by Dee Sarton. This panel discussed the importance of women in leadership roles. Women are stepping out and standing up and do it well. A question that was asked was, what do we as women bring to the bale in politics? The responses from the panel were that women are good at collaboration, good listeners, compassionate, that their motivation is not for power but improvement, want to make an impact whether it’s political or not, that they can be engaged in the moment, and wanting to make a difference. The last question from the panel was do you wish for the women in the audience to know. The answers ranged from making time to spend with friends to looking at failures as opportunities to helping younger people by identifying their core strengths and mentoring them. One important message that all the women echoed was to not take life so seriously enjoy the moments more.
The day turned out to be very enlightening and empowering. The call for more women to standup as leaders, in any capacity, and to fill the roles in order to make the changes that they want to see. This was a great opportunity to witness Idaho government in action, and to connect with women all across the state who are working towards making positive changes in their communities.