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No woman has ever been elected House Speaker or Senate Majority Leader in Michigan.
While women have made gains over the last several decades, there’s “definitely still an old boy’s network” that’s in place in Lansing, said state Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor.
Geiss said she believes she’s been spared the brunt of what she might have otherwise experienced during her legislative career because her husband, Doug Geiss, preceded her in the Legislature. But the political environment still poses significant challenges for women that need to be addressed and taken seriously, she said, and the onus needs to be on men to address the behavior.
“We need to be forthright and honest about these conversations, otherwise you’re going to have women who are going to make decisions to not be in these spaces,” Geiss said.
Elizabeth Battiste in the Lansing Capitol Building on April 14, 2021. (Nicole Hester | MLive)
Historically, Democratic women have made more gains in state legislatures than Republicans, although the number of Republican women serving increased in the last election cycle. It’s an issue Cox said she and other Republicans in Michigan have worked to resolve, making an effort to recruit women who have experience to bring to the table but may not have otherwise seen themselves in that role.
In some instances, Cox said her experience as a mother sparked her interest in or made her the right fit for policy issues, such as an effort to update the state’s car seat safety law. And it was her past experience on crafting government budgets, not her gender, that made her the right fit for the Appropriations Chair position, she said.
“As an elected official, I always tried to encourage women to get involved…To make positive change, get that confidence,” she said. “(Electing more women) is something we’re going to continue to work on as a party, and that’s something that’s important to many people. And we want to continue to have those voices heard in our caucus as well.”