- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Women will remain a minority in the Nebraska Legislature no matter how many votes they receive in the upcoming election.

Of the 63 candidates who filed by Tuesday’s deadline to run for the 25 seats opening in the Unicameral this year, only 15 are women, including four senators running for re-election.

Currently there are 11 women serving in the 49-member Unicameral, and if women were elected to all possible seats they could fill this fall, there would still only be a net gain of five seats.

The state’s women senators said they feel strong support from both voters and their male colleagues, but societal pressures and self-doubt keep many women from considering running for office.

“Despite all the policy gains we have made in the past 40 years, it falls on mom to manage the home and the children,” Sen. Tanya Cook of Omaha said. “So that takes away from the time to pursue elected office, even to pursue some of the experience like volunteer boards or school boards.”

At 22.4 percent of the elected body, Nebraska’s number of women legislators falls only slightly below the national average of 24.5 percent, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

Cook said men and women consider different factors when deciding whether to run for the Legislature. A woman will think logically about if she has gathered enough experience necessary to do the job, where men generally think in terms of their personal merit, she said.

Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids agreed.

“I think we women too often wait to be asked to be involved, rather than think of it from our own personal standpoint of what we can bring to the table,” said Sullivan, who will have served her maximum eight years after this session.

Republican Tom Briese, an Albion farmer, is running unopposed for the District 41 seat now held by Sullivan.

Sullivan said she has been considering how small changes, like shorter work weeks or briefer sessions, could attract more women in her district to run for office.

More women could enhance the kind of debate that occurs, she said.

“I think women tend to be more collaborative in nature,” she said. “We tend to be willing to listen more and be willing to compromise, sometimes to our fault, but again, I think that leads us down a path most of the time of getting things accomplished.”

Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln said when women from rural areas run, they need to consider what it will mean to their families. Often lawmakers from western Nebraska live in Lincoln during the week.

Anna Wishart, chair of Lincoln Airport Authority who is running for Lincoln’s District 27, said she and her husband have had to make specific choices to prepare for her campaign, including downsizing on a house. Wishart and her husband are foster parents, but have decided not to do so during her campaign.

Wishart said her campaign is propelled by a number of mentors, including former state Sen. DiAnna Schimek.

Wishart encouraged women interested in public office to strengthen relationships with women they admire to gain honest feedback and support.

“There’s this feeling of not being prepared enough,” she said. “What I have learned is that a lot of time, what you have to do is just take that step forward, just make that decision, and prepare along the way.”

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