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Home Sower Column Carol Blood fights to move women toward political parity

Photo credit: Nebraska State Legislature. 

By Bailey Mooney

 

While campaigning for political positions historically dominated by men, Carol Blood continues to fight to move women one step closer to political parity in electoral politics in the state of Nebraska.

Political parity means encouraging equality for women in appointed and elected positions of power.

Blood provides a window of examples on how much of a lasting difference women can make by being elected into public office; and additionally, how diversity in representation can affect the lives of young Nebraskans.

An important strategy in achieving gender equality is to increase women’s participation in political decision-making and leadership.

“It is important for women to run for office because girls can’t be what girls can’t see, we have to lead by example,” said Blood, a Nebraska state senator who is completing her term representing Legislative District 03. The legislative session this year convened on Jan. 3 and adjourned April 18.

Blood also is the Democratic candidate for Congress in Nebraska’s First District, running against Republican Rep. Mike Flood. Throughout her career, she has discussed the importance of listening to constituents and encouraging them to be a part of the conversation.

Blood admits that sometimes people have become confused about the difference between federal and state government, and that this influenced her to run for Congress in 2024. “Sometimes people are confused about the difference between federal and state government, but we get them where they need to be,” she said. “That was part of my deciding factor of running for higher office. There are a lot of people unfortunately who are confused by state and federal offices and that tells me that their representatives aren’t communicating with them.

“Even as dysfunctional as the Nebraska Legislature looked last year, we still passed hundreds of bills. However, Congress only passed 27, and they are going on record of being one of the most ineffective Congresses in recent history,” said Blood.

Women’s representation in the Nebraska Legislature was at an all-time high this legislative session with women occupying 18 out of 49 or 36.7 percent of available seats. According to The Center for American Women and Politics, women represent 32.8 percent of state legislature positions nationwide. According to Nebraska Public Media, 17 of the state’s 49 districts have never elected a female state senator.

While the Nebraska Legislature is officially nonpartisan, which means there are no official political parties, almost all senators are registered as either Democrat or Republican and the majority lean heavily Republican. Among the women in the Legislature, there are nine Democrats and nine Republicans.

Nebraska women currently hold 29 of 80 available elective seats in state government, which means 36.25 percent of Nebraska’s elected representation is female.

Throughout Nebraska’s history, women from a variety of different backgrounds have fought to transform society in many different ways. Nebraska has seen a share of success with a number of women politicians, writers, business owners, advocates, educators and philanthropists making their mark on United States history.

Despite barriers, Nebraska has a strong history of women brave enough to push the envelope on what society has deemed appropriate for women in politics. Nebraska provided a national first when two women were their parties’ nominee for governor in one election. Republican candidate Kay Orr beat Democratic candidate Helen Boosalis in a very closely contested election for governor in 1986.

Orr was the first Republican woman to be elected governor in the United States. Additionally, Orr served as state treasurer from 1981-1987. She is still known for her ability to defend her decisions and beliefs, and has never been known to keep her opinions to herself.

Virginia Dodd Smith was the first woman to represent Nebraska in Congress. She was a representative of Nebraska’s Third district and served from 1975-1991. She was elected seven times with sweeping margins due to her ability to fight for the needs of her constituents. The Third District of Nebraska included 62 of Nebraska’s 93 counties, accounting for 79 percent of Nebraska’s land area.

Smith was also the first woman to be inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Agricultural Achievement and the first recognized as a NHAA Honoree. She never lost sight of her passion for advocating for agricultural issues and articulating the needs of rural Nebraskans.

Blood takes pride in her native Nebraska roots and has known since she was a young girl that she wanted to become an elected official to represent the state. “I knew I wanted to be a state senator since my fourth-grade tour, and so I always knew that I would eventually become a state senator,” she said.

Before Blood campaigned for the Nebraska Legislature, she was elected to the Bellevue City Council. She recalls a time when she would have council meetings while raising her children and managing her business from home. “I believed that I could be a better state senator if I ran for Bellevue City Council first,” said Blood.

Blood served eight years on the Bellevue City Council before announcing her campaign for the Nebraska Legislature. In 2016, she was elected to represent District 3 in Sarpy County, claiming 51.56 percent of the vote. In 2020, she was re-elected, claiming 50.4 percent of the vote. Blood is term-limited after this year. Nebraska law limits state senators to a maximum of two consecutive four-year terms, after which they must wait four years before they can be elected again.

“The reason I decided to serve in the Nebraska Legislature was because I appreciate good policy,” said Blood. She hoped to promote nonpartisan bills that a variety of legislative representatives can support.

“If you look especially at my first-year bills, consistently those are bills people talked to me at the doors about wanting to see happen. We promoted bills that established hearing aids for children to be covered under insurance in Nebraska, and transparency bills for candidates,” Blood said. “These bills and a wide variety of others were what my constituents and the people of Nebraska talked to me about.”

Blood was the primary introducer of 105 bills during her legislature tenure and 15 were passed. Eight of 34 resolutions for which she was the primary introducer were adopted. In addition to promoting bills about transparency for candidates and hearing aids for children, Blood introduced LB751, which provided for a mental health exception to compulsory education requirements and passed unanimously in 2020, and LB265, which changed provisions of the Property Assessed Clean Energy Act and also passed unanimously.

Blood also worked to address the need for feminine hygiene products for low-income women by participating in a Period Poverty Supply drive in 2021. The supplies from the drive went to organizations that help women in need have access to sanitary products.

Blood also supported Papillion’s Urban Garden by spreading the word about the resource on her legislative blog. Papillion’s Urban Garden is a nonprofit that aims to reduce food insecurity in Sarpy County. Levels of food insecurity have varied from 9.2 percent in Sarpy County to 18.4 percent in Thurston County.

On Sept. 13, 2021, Blood announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor in the 2022 Nebraska election. She defeated Roy Harris to become the Democratic nominee in the May 10 primary. After capturing 88.7 percent of the votes for the Democratic nominee, Blood moved on to face Republican Jim Pillen, who defeated her in the general election.

As the race for governor moved forward, Pillen refused to participate in the traditional candidate debates but Blood said she was willing to participate. Former governors Dave Heineman and Ben Nelson agreed with Blood about the importance of debates in providing a space where voters have a chance to see how their candidates answer questions.

After losing to Pillen, Blood returned to her seat in the Nebraska Legislature with two years left in her term. “I love that people can come to me and I can help them regardless of the role I serve,” said Blood. She has had an open-door policy all eight years she has been in the Legislature.

“If a lobbyist, constituent, special interest group, or nonprofit wants to talk to me about a bill, if I am here, my door is always open, even without an appointment,” said Blood.

If elected to Congress, Blood hopes to help overcome the partisan bias that has hindered the ability of Congress to pass legislation. According to the New York Times, the House of Representatives in 2023 managed to pass just 27 bills that also were passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Joe Biden. For comparison, the past 10 Congresses averaged 391 bills signed into law per term.

Blood acknowledges that there have been representatives in the past from both parties that have served Nebraska well. She believes that serving constituents well is about policy and not political affiliation.

“If we don’t start sending people to Washington who aren’t going to stand for the partisanship, we are never going to see change, and we will never see anything effective happen at the federal level,” said Blood.

Although the American electorate has increased in diversity, many political networks tend to be male-dominated. According to The Center for American Women and Politics, women comprise 51 percent of the population, but only 20 percent of the seats held in public office. Women are in many ways a minority voice at the political table partly because there is a lack of encouragement for women to run for political positions.

Center data show that women account for 28.2 percent of positions in Congress. The experiences of women politicians articulate the pressures, and double standards that women across many occupations often face.

A Pew Research Center student found that although female representation in U.S. politics has grown, 53 percent of Americans say there are still too few women in political office and many see significant obstacles for women candidates.

Political Research Quarterly found that women are less likely to respond positively to recruitment for political positions. One reason may be that women are aware of the benefits that can come from party support but may be skeptical that those benefits are likely promoted to women.

Women’s prior experience with the limits of political and professional networks may show that although political elites expend extra social and political capital on some recruits, many tend to be men. This leaves many women wondering if political elites actually invest in them with the enthusiasm they do their male counterparts.

Female candidates have faced significant challenges in voting outcomes because of stereotypes that have been enforced by voters. The voter turnout in 2020 soared to levels that had not been seen in decades. According to Civic Nebraska, Nebraska finished No. 21 in terms of voter participation, with 69.9 percent of voting-age Nebraskans casting ballots in the November election.

However, according to America’s Health Rankings, an average of 58.9 percent of Nebraska’s eligible female voters took to the polls in the last presidential election.

“My advice for young women is to fall forward fast. Don’t be scared to try things that may feel hard or uncomfortable,” Blood said. “What is the worst that can happen? If things do go south or there is a problem, that is a wonderful learning opportunity and one that can make your life better.”

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