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Politics & Government

Women are running for local office in record numbers in some Northwoods counties. Here's why.

Absentee voting
League of Women Voters of the Northwoods Facebook

Candidates running for a seat on the county board don’t always face much competition. But this year, the majority of races for Oneida County’s board are contested, with a record number of women seeking the position.

When the Oneida County Board of Supervisors convenes monthly to discuss county lands and public services, at every seat of the table is a white man.

Women are represented on other county boards in northern Wisconsin, but from Langlade County to Iron County, they always make up a minority.

However, that could change after this spring’s election. More women are running for county board supervisor in places like Oneida and Lincoln counties than ever before.

“That is phenomenal,” says Tracy Hartman, the clerk in Oneida County, where women are on the ballot for county board supervisor in nearly half of the county’s 21 districts.

“Typically, if we have one or two women running, that’s pretty good and we’re excited to see that,” she says. “To see 11 women running, it’s really fun to see and to be a part of that.”

That number is especially remarkable, Hartman says, given the history of women serving on the Oneida County Board.

“Historically, there have been 15 – only 15 – women that have served on the Oneida County Board from 1918 until now,” she says.

The first woman on the board started serving in the 1960s, and at most, women held four of the Oneida County Board’s 21 seats in 1988 and 1999.

Hartman said the last woman on the board stepped down two or three years ago, after serving a short period.

Since then, Oneida County’s supervisors have all been men.

“We don’t tend to have a lot of women on our board,” Hartman says.

That’s part of the reason why women like Kathleen Cooper-Loher decided to run.

“The fact that there were no women on the board, I figured women needed a voice on the board,” she says.

Cooper-Loher is a retired nurse who worked in Rhinelander and Minocqua for many years.

Now, she wants to bring her experience and perspective to local government.

“Women see things through a different lens,” she says. “I think men and women can both agree on what’s important, but men see it from one angle and women see it from another angle.”

Cooper-Loher is running against another woman, Debbie Condado, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment from WXPR.

But no matter who wins this race, a woman will represent Oneida County’s sixth district.

Kathleen Cooper-Loher says that is a step in the right direction.

“It would be nice to have equal representation,” she says.

She’s not the only one who thinks this.

Yo Mistele is a member of the League of Women Voters of the Northwoods.

“I think a woman’s perspective is much different than a man’s perspective on many issues,” she says. “This is a big year for women.”

The League held trainings to teach people how to run for local office.

Coupled with recruiting efforts of local Republican and Democratic parties, some Northwoods counties are seeing more people interested in serving in local government.

From what she hears, Oneida County Clerk Tracy Hartman thinks this is partly a response to the drama of the 2020 presidential election.

“People just feel they want to be more invested in their government and local is where you want to start doing that,” she says.

Hartman says that’s not just good news for women in the Northwoods, but for democracy.

“Our country was built on having people run for office and being able to make a choice of who you want to represent you,” she says.

This year, people in many Northwoods counties have choices. The question now is, who will make them?

This story was produced in partnership with Beyond the Headlines, a program of Wisconsin Humanities, and was funded in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Democracy and the Informed Citizen initiative. BTH brings members of Wisconsin media and the public together to examine how we can be ready and informed to meet our communities’ challenges.

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