There are three women running for the Cottage Grove City Council this election cycle and many of their reasons for doing so are generally the same: someone told them they should run, they looked around and thought they could make a difference and they were already participating in various community organizations. The outcome of the election, however, may make the council look dramatically different.
“When I walked into the council meetings, there wasn’t a woman on the board. I’ve looked at the stats and I don’t remember exactly but it’s something like 50 or 51-point-something percent of the population in Cottage Grove is female. That’s like, three seats. Not no seats,” said Jill Hermansen, one of the three female candidates vying for an opportunity to represent their ward.
Currently, the seven-member board is made up entirely of men, including the mayor. The homogeneous representation was triggered after former city councilor Amy Slay stepped down after a moved across town and out of city limits barred her from keeping her seat. It resulted in the city of Cottage Grove losing its only elected female other than the three female members of the South Lane School Board and drew attention to the fact that no elected, appointed or hired female was in a position of leadership within the city other than the head of the city's financial department.
The issue was examined in a February article in The Sentinel.
“I think a lot of people saw the article and realized there was a lack of women running and there are several movements nationwide of women standing up and running for these things,” said Ashley Rigel, who is running for the seat currently held by councilor Mike Fleck. “I feel like a bunch of women are just busting through that glass ceiling and women are seeing that there’s a lot of encouragement from other women now.”
Nationwide, women are running for office in record numbers; and winning. In August, 219 women won their primary elections for a chance at a seat in the House or Senate.
Dozens of women have tossed their hat into the ring for local county races and, while the U.S. has never seen more than nine female governors in office at one time, this year there is an opportunity for 13 women to occupy their state’s top executive office.
When the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce was working toward bringing a celebration to honor the film “Animal House” to Cottage Grove, Candace Lamb-Solsbee had a lot of opportunity to come before the city council and said she did notice a voice missing.
“For me, running wasn’t necessarily that there weren’t any women but being a business owner, I thought we could use a small business advocate on the board especially with the changes coming with the downtown refinement plan. But, I do think women can have a different view, a different way of approaching things and I think having a woman on the council is an asset.”
Hermansen was less involved in local politics and more involved in the school district, her local church and Habitat for Humanity, before deciding to run.
“I just realized I was in all of these things and I thought, ‘Huh, maybe I’m not bad at this. Maybe I can do this.’ And early on someone had told me, ‘You should run for council.’”
According to Dr. Barbara Spencer, chair for the Oregon Commission for Women, it’s not unusual for women to be the last people in their lives to initiate the idea of running for office.
“If you don’t see women up there, you often don’t think of running yourself so it perpetuates itself,” Spencer said. “It’s hard to develop the idea of ‘I want to be a mayor’ on your own … There is a confidence gap with women in running the rigors of campaigning,” she added. “Asking for money, it’s something women often do not like to do. Until they’re pushed and asked that they should run, they don’t do it.”
Rigel is running against Fleck while Hermansen and Lamb-Solsbee are running for Garland Burback’s seat meaning that at most, two of the three candidates can be elected to the board.
“As I was attending the meetings and listening Greg Ervin’s comments about bringing his young family out into the community I just think that’s what we need,” said Hermansen. “My daughter is 12 and as a woman, I want her to know these options are there. I work full time and volunteer my time but I want her to know she has all kinds of options in the world. If women don’t step up, how will out daughters know they can?”
Rigel, Lamb-Solsbee and Hermasen are joined by Christy Inskip who is running for the House District 7 seat against Cedric Hayden.