By Nora Hertal
About 23 percent of South Dakota’s 105 legislative seats are currently occupied by women — 1 percent below the national average cited by the National Conference of State Legislatures — and about 26 percent of the candidates that made it through the June primary are women.
But politically active women in South Dakota — and beyond — are taking steps to expand their representation. It’s important to elect women, because governments that reflect their constituencies are stronger and draw voter participation, said Cynthia Terrell, chair of the project Representation 2020, a national group that promotes gender balance in governments.
And Gail Brock, president of the South Dakota Federation of Republican Women, said the state is already electing a fair number of women and many serve in politics behind the scenes.
“There is a lot of potential out there,” said Brock, whose group works to encourage women to participate in government and run for office.
Women face unique challenges when running for office, because many start political careers later in life than men and have smaller networks to draw on, Terrell said. She also said women usually need more encouragement to run then men do.
“Women don’t have a hard time winning,” according to Barb Everist, the first woman to serve as majority leader in the South Dakota Senate. “We just don’t compete in the same numbers as men.”