Local officeholders weigh in on what’s next for women in politics

Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown votes in 2015 election

COLUMBUS, Ohio - As women across America push for more positions in political office, residents in Central Ohio have already welcomed women into leadership seats.

Megan Kilgore walked into her new office as the Columbus city auditor in January and became the first woman to do so. Kilgore says she earned the seat with help from her mentor, former auditor Hugh Dorrian, and her Facebook page. Social media, Kilgore says, helped make her name known to more people in the city. Kilgore monitored all those clicks and found people reacted most to posts about qualifications. So, that is what she focused on. The day she was overwhelmingly voted into office, she says her long-time goal was realized.

"I remember even when I was 5th grade wanting to run for office one day," said Kilgore.

Her campaign sparked prior to the 2017 Women's March, but she said she benefited from the momentum it created. She said she saw many first-time volunteers step up to help her.

"People came out in mass numbers," said Kilgore.

Meanwhile, that same march served as inspiration across the hall in City Council Member Elizabeth Brown's office.

"The signs, the chants, the community didn't speak in the language of partisanship. It was about values and it was about issues," said Brown.

"It doesn't mean simply the year to elect women. That would be great. We should elect more women. Our democracy should be more representative. It is by definition not when only 25% of officeholders are women. But it's all about looking at how things affect a whole bunch of women who are nothing like you, a little like you or exactly like you."

In her more than two years in office, one of her focal points has been family life. Her own balancing act between being a mom and a politician became clear recently as she spoke before a podium in the Statehouse with her toddler daughter Carolyn on her hip.

"I found out later, from watching the tape, that she picked her nose through almost the whole thing," said Brown.

When she learned she was pregnant with Carolyn, Brown said she also found out her employer at that time did not have paid family leave. Brown believes while the Federal Medical Leave Act laid the groundwork, it leaves too many people unprotected.

"Only 15% of our workforce has access to paid family leave," said Brown. "And we're the only nation other than Papua, New Guinea in the world that doesn't have some form of paid family leave."

She has lobbied to push legislation forward that would change that. "I focus a lot on women's issues. The reason I do that - and I define 'women's issues' broadly - is because women are half of our economy. Women are nearly half of the workforce now and women make about 80% of consumer spending decisions in the household. So, to silo women's issues off as a special interest group makes no sense.”

Both women said the next step is more than insuring more female officeholders next year. It is to encourage future generations.

"As women, it is incumbent upon us to try to open the doors to the future generations to encourage them to consider careers in government," said Kilgore. "My goal is to continue mentoring women forward as I continue my elected service."