By Rep.-elect Sheila Solon
The 2018 elections were a wake-up call for many in the Republican Party about our party’s decreased support among women voters, particularly in suburban areas. Nearly all of the 40 seats that Democrats captured in order to win the U.S. House majority were in suburban districts, and a terrible side effect of those losses was that the number of Republican women in the U.S. House will decrease from 23 to 13.
When women aren’t represented in our representative bodies, we lose a lot of things. We lose the perspectives of our mothers, grandmothers, daughters, and sisters. We lose the experience of women who know what it’s like to manage a household, a business, and a family budget at the same time, of women who’ve served in the military, and of women who’ve served their communities in ways other than elected office. We lose the solution-oriented approach that women typically bring to public office, which voters typically prefer to a win-at-all-costs approach that leads to scorched earth campaigns and gridlock in government. And we lose a focus on kitchen table issues like health care, child care, college costs, and fiscal responsibility which women candidates are more likely to emphasize.
For the sake of the Republican Party’s long-term prospects, we need to successfully encourage and recruit talented candidates from all walks of life to run for office, including more women. We still have a lot of work to do, but there are some encouraging signs of progress in Missouri. Unlike the U.S. House, the number of Republican women in the Missouri House will be the same in January as it was before the election: 22. Part of the credit goes to the Next Gen GOP PAC, which was started by Rep. Shamed Dogan as a way to support women, minority, and young Republican House candidates. The PAC raised over $80,000 and contributed to 36 candidates this cycle, including in every closely contested race. In addition to the 22 women in our caucus, we will have the first Asian-American House member in our state’s history (Jon Patterson from Lee’s Summit) as well as 26 members who are 40 years old or younger.
We have an extremely talented group of freshmen legislators coming into the House this year, including women with extremely impressive resumes and personalities such as Karla Eslinger, Mary Elizabeth Coleman, and Brenda Shields. I’m in a unique situation because I was previously elected to represent the 31st District in Blue Springs, but because of my husband’s job I relocated to St. Joseph 2 years ago. Had I not received the encouragement and support of great women I served with such as Reps. Kathie Conway & Marsha Haefner, and the support of the Next Gen GOP PAC, I don’t know if I would’ve had the confidence to run successfully in a completely new area like I did.
I’m doing everything I can to cultivate a future generation of Republican leaders in Missouri to follow in the footsteps of Margaret Kelly, Sarah Steelman, Catherine Hanaway, and others who have risen to positions of power in the party. I am glad to call one of those future leaders, Rep. Dogan, a good friend. I sat next to him on the House floor from 2015-2016 and saw what a smart, thoughtful person he is and what a powerful spokesperson he is for commonsense conservative values. He has been a strong advocate for women on policy issues and has also walked the walk by helping several women in our caucus win their primary elections, which took a lot of courage.
The GOP should continue cultivating talent with the recognition that women and minority candidates often need a little bit more convincing in order to take the plunge. Because once women and minorities are on the ballot, they can win and serve with distinction. But they can’t win if they don’t run.
Sheila Solon is the state representative-elect for the 9th District in Buchanan and Andrew counties.