A region of firsts: Ingham County’s female leadership

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(The authors are Democratic state representatives from Greater Lansing.)

In her victory speech, Vice President Kamala Harris confidently stated: “I may be the first woman to hold this office, but I will not be the last.”

Watching this historic moment unfold with thousands of others across the country, the weight of her words brought an overwhelming sense of hope and pride for women everywhere. The climb to the top may be long, tumultuous and unpredictable, but all it takes is one woman at the top to uncover new, previously hidden routes for others.

Here in mid-Michigan, women have benefited from the momentum and strides of inspirational women leaders for decades. It’s easy to forget that Michigan moguls like Debbie Stabenow and Gretchen Whitmer had their start right here in our community, and the path was not easy for them.

In 2000, Stabenow became the first woman from Michigan elected to serve in the U.S. Senate. Since then, she has gone on to become a senior senator and mainstay in the U.S. Capitol building — fighting for Michigan’s agricultural industry, our Great Lakes and the working families that drive our economy.

A few years later, Dianne Byrum became the first woman to lead a caucus in our state Capitol. Almost a decade later, a young State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer joined her in the ranks by becoming the first woman to lead a Michigan Senate caucus. We know now that Whitmer would go on to courageously lead the state during one of the most divisive and dangerous times on modern record, along with the support of the most diverse cabinet in Michigan’s history.

In 2012, State Rep. Sarah Anthony became the youngest African American woman to serve as a county commissioner in the U.S. and went on to become the first African American woman to serve as state representative for the city of Lansing in 2018. She was joined in the halls of the Capitol by Reps. Kara Hope and Julie Brixie in January of 2019, marking the first time all three House seats in Ingham County were held by women.

The ripples of these “firsts” have been tremendous for our region. Today, women make up 25% of Ingham County’s elected offices and 64.7% of Ingham County’s judges. For the first time, the 54A District Court is made up of entirely female judges. With diverse leadership at the top, we have taken a bold stance that our region governs through a lens of diversity, inclusivity and equity-guiding principles that have contributed to socially progressive policies at every level.

Under the direction of Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail, the Ingham Community Health Center became the only community health center in Michigan to be awarded the “Leader in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality” status. As the first woman to be elected as Ingham County Prosecutor, Carol Siemon also set a groundbreaking internal policy guiding staff to treat individuals in accordance with their preferred gender identity.

It is important that we recognize and celebrate the contributions of these effective, thoughtful leaders not just during Women’s History Month, but each and every day. As the state representatives for Ingham County, we will do our best to follow in the footsteps of the Mid-Michigan women who have done so much for our region and paved the way for future leaders like us.

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