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Political News

Four Women On Johnson County Board, Considered Historic

State and county elected officials across Iowa started new terms Wednesday. After the swearing in of a newly-elected supervisor in Johnson County, the county's board is now made up of four women and one man, thought to be a first in the state.

With four women on the five member board, Johnson County now has more female supervisors than anywhere else in Iowa. Local elections workers believe it to be historic, and representatives from the Iowa State Association of Counties and the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University can't recall another county having more female board members. 

Supervisor Pat Heiden is Johnson County's newest member. She joins Supervisors Lisa Green-Douglass, Royceann Porter, Janelle Rettig and Rod Sullivan.

“It took me a long time to get here. But the moment has arrived and now I look forward to getting to work and I’m really excited about that,” Heiden said following her swearing in ceremony.

Heiden says she hopes to work on a slate of issues, including promoting affordable housing, setting a "liveable" wage, and expanding access to childcare, public transportation and behavorial and mental health care in the county.

Heiden’s mother Eileen Heiden happened to be one of Iowa’s first female supervisors, elected to the post in 1972 in Crawford County.

“She was one of the first women to chair such a board. And just this last election the second woman was elected to that board. And she also ran against Steve King in the 1990s," Heiden said. "She passed away a little more than a year ago but…I know she’s here today.”

Female candidates for supervisor won a string of victories in 1972, including Jean Oxley in Linn County, Lorada Cilek in Johnson County and Hope Rogers in Benton County.

Rogers says when she ran in the 1970s, as a married "farm wife" with children, she and other women with families were expected to stay home once they were married, and discouraged from taking a job, even if their family needed another income. 

"I had been told that the supervisor position was one that no woman could win," Rogers said. "So I knew that I would have to campaign abaout 10 times harder than my opponent, and I did."

Rogers says during her campaign she was in a local parade just about every Saturday, and hosted dances around the county where she would break out her alto saxophone and join the band.

She ultimately won two terms, but Benton County hasn’t elected another female supervisor since she left the post. 

According to research from the at Iowa State University's Catt Center, 30 percent of state lawmakers are women, while about 10 percent of county supervisors are women. The center's director Kelly Winfrey says she's not sure why fewer women are serving as county supervisors than as state legislators.

"The flipside is county auditors are almost 80 percent female. So it's not necessarily county government," Winfrey said. "My guess would be there is either a lack of encouragement, a lack of recognition of the importance of that, and perhaps, seeing a predominately male governing body like the county board of supervisors is a deterrent."

A month away from age 95, Rogers admits she's been out of politics for a while and a lot has changed. But she hopes more women will consider running for office, and warns that they should be prepared to outrun their opponents. 

“When you get in, keep your promises, I say. And use your own woman's brain," she said. "You’re an enabler of people to govern themselves. And you have to have respect for them, and your job, and yourself…it takes a lot of guts.”