Back in March, before COVID-19, when members of the state Legislature met in person and not virtually, as they did last week, there was a debate about child care on the floor of the Wyoming House — The People’s House, as they like to call it.
By the time the debate was over it felt very clear the House belongs to only certain kinds of people.
For context, here is the text of the proposed amendment:
“Section 14. [Legislator Childcare Expenses]. … Funds appropriated in this act may be expended to reimburse members of the legislature for additional childcare expenses incurred by the member for the care of the member’s dependent minor children under the age of twelve (12) as a result of the member attending sessions of the legislature, attending meetings of interim committees and engaging in authorized interim work. ... No reimbursable expense to any one (1) member under this section shall exceed five hundred dollars ($500.00) in any calendar quarter.”
A benign, and gender-neutral, policy proposal. The statutory language itself is what is referred to as “permissive.” If the amendment had passed, granting any would have remained optional.
While any parent can tell you that $2,000 a year is not making much of a dent in the cost of child care, the policy was a step in the direction of inviting and admitting a broader range of types of people into the state Legislature. Perhaps a small step, but a step.
It might surprise you to learn that members of the House defeated this amendment in a pretty knockdown, drag-out debate.
Given that only seven of the Legislature’s 90 members have children under the age of 12 — and, of those, only two are mothers of young children — perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising. Older male ranchers outnumber parents of young children, and those members lamented that no one was offering them a stipend to have someone look after their livestock while they were away.
At the time I summed it up this way: No child care because ... livestock.
I bring it up now because it speaks to a central issue with policy and governance: We get the policy we get based on the personal experiences of the people we elect.
When there are more male ranchers over 65 serving as seated members of the House of Representatives than parents of children under the age of 12, we get policy that reflects that.
Elected officials across the state do not reflect the citizens of the Equality State. Our elected officials do not look like us or share our lived experiences.
Kelly Dittmar, who focuses her research on the impacts of women in public office, puts it this way, “Elected women don’t just shed light on certain issues that might otherwise be ignored; they also contribute perspectives to legislative debates that otherwise might not be heard.”
There is already some good news about women and public office — across the country and in Wyoming — and we can build on it right now.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics, “More women have filed to run for U.S. House seats in 2020 than in any year in history. The 490 women who have filed so far this year outpace even the record-breaking 2018 midterms.”
A recent Wall Street Journal video report highlights both Wyoming’s history of women’s suffrage as well as the efforts to support women running for office today.
Wyoming is poised to send its first woman to the U.S. Senate.
A new, nonpartisan political action committee (better known as a PAC) in Wyoming, The Cowgirl Run Fund, will support women across Wyoming who run for state and local offices.
Now is the time to double down on how we fix the policy problem: Wyoming’s filing period opened Thursday and closes May 29. Public service matters. Representation matters. Your voice matters.