Decision 2008 Legacy: Year of the Women

6:55 AM, Nov 6, 2008   |    comments
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The 2008 election was personally historic for Jacci Rickel of Saint Paul. For the first time in her life, the Hamline University student was old enough to vote in a Presidential election. After an early morning class on the Snelling Avenue campus, peace symbol earrings dangling, she made her way to her polling place in the Burlingame Apartments on Energy Park Drive. The morning could have been historic in another way. Rickel could have voted twice. The election officers accidentally gave her 2 ballots. Rickel quickly returned one of the ballots. She wanted her candidate to win, but to do so, fair and square. Rickel completed both sides of the long ballot, earning her an "I voted" sticker. She left elated and excited. Later that morning, on the other side of the Twin Cities, Gen Olson voted in Minnetrista as she has for decades. A veteran of the electoral process, Gen Olson has been a member of the Minnesota State Senate since 1982 and ran for Lieutenant Governor with Norm Coleman in 1998. She was somewhat restrained by double knee replacement surgery 3 months earlier, but determined to join her constituents in the long lines of Decision '08. Republican Veteran Olson and Democrat newcomer Rickel may be ideological opposites, but they shared a common celebration in a watershed year for American women in government. New York Senator Hillary Clinton came within a hair of being the Democratic Presidential standard bearer. Alaska Governor Sarah Palin lept onto the national political stage as the GOP nominee for Vice President, the first woman on a major national ticket since Geraldine Ferraro in 1984. California's Nancy Pelosi is the powerful Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. The post puts her 3rd in line for the top job, behind the President and Vice President. As U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice is 5th in the line of presidential succession. Never, in the 232 year history of the country, have so many women been so close to the nation's highest office. But the startling gender sharing of political power is not solely at the national level. Representative Phyllis Kahn of Minneapolis was elected for the 19th time on Tuesday. She is the longest serving woman in the Minnesota legislature. "When I first ran, (1972) there was exactly one woman in the House of Representatives. We now have over 60." Kahn says it was the number of unopposed female judges on "flip" side of Tuesday's ballot that amazed her. "I couldn't believe how many, I think, almost more than half of them in Hennepin County were women! It was a big surprise! They weren't even women I knew! They were women I didn't know. Where did they all come from? So, you know, there's been, obviously, a total change." At dinner-time on election night, Jenna Schaller, Kelly Fulton and Jenny Delaney were busy in the 4th floor kitchen of their Minneapolis apartment. In the midst of the sliced cucumbers, pasta and avacados, the chatter of the trio of University of Minnesota graduate students was all about the election playing out on the TV in their combination living/dining room. They marvelled at the ease of registering and voting, even if Fulton had to swear an oath and "vouch" for Schaller, who had recently changed addresses. More than that, they marvelled at attention to women in the electoral process. Schaller intoned the significance. "Well, I mean, obviously it's historic because we have Sarah Palin running." Fulton agreed. "It has been a historic year and I feel that it's just gonna keep continuing year after year. We're gonna see more and more women entering the political arena, which I think is great." Which is not to say that these young women see Sarah Palin as a template for female candidates. Fulton summed up their feelings. "I think she's a good role model in that she's out there. She doesn't represent me. So, I guess, that's how I feel about her." From their different perspectives, political veterans Olson and Kahn agreed about Palin's impact. Olson admitted surprise. "I didn't expect it, but she really has been kind of a breath of fresh air and I think she's brought a new vigor." Kahn is a long-time, liberal Democrat. "As you might guess, I'm not a real strong fan of Sarah Palin, but she's energized a whole set of different women and a whole set of different people in this, so I think that's an interesting phenomenon for us to watch." Over the election night plates of pasta, Kelly Fulton hoped for a political evolution, as well as revolution. "I'm really looking for forward to the day where we don't have to celebrate that (women in high office), that it's become kind of the norm in our culture." Would any of the young women consider seeking office themselves someday? Fulton would consider it. "If I got, you know, agitated about something, I suppose I could." Education grad student Schaller thinks so too, at least for an administrative position. "Maybe someday be running, running the state's education, work my way up." Jenny Delaney plans a more private impact. "I feel like there's a lot more stuff that could be done, more on an individual level and doing it more on the ground than actually being in office." Across town, in her Saint Paul apartment, Rickel gathered with her Hamline Law School boyfriend, Matt, and pondered a political career of her own. The former DFL intern thought not. "It's just too dirty. I don't think I can handle all of the back door deals and I also just think that people who actively seek office don't deserve it." Oddly, long-time politician Gen Olson also thinks there should be more to candidates than just ambition. "The last thing I'd want to see is people, and that's men or women, that we have all our elected office holders, offices, held by people who have just prepared for politics. I think the richness of the enterprise of government comes from having people who have a wealth of life experience in different career fields." As the election reached its crescendo, Rickel began flipping between MSNBC and FoxNews, for different takes on the developing vote count. The one-time Hillary Clinton supporter felt the history of the election. "I think it's tremendously important for women, just because of the amount of female candidates." Of course, the one female national candidate still standing, Sarah Palin, did not win, but Jacci Rickel's 1st Presidential vote was a winner. As the Obama win was projected on the TV, Rickel erupted. "Ladies and Gentlemen! The first African-American President of the United States and the first one I ever voted for!" Her candidate this time was a man. Next time, it might be a different story. Rickel and millions of other American women of all ages now know that it's possible. That is the "other" legacy of Election '08. by Allen Costantini - 11/05/08

By Allen Costantini, KARE 11 News

Read Allen's KAREmudgeon Blog

(Copyright 2008 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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