Sierra Nevada women challenging men for public office
Women’s involvement and participation in government and politics is rising in part due to the Me Too Movement and 2018 being designated Year of The Woman.
While some may have set this course as a career path, more often that hasn’t been the case.
“I am such a native Nevadan that my great-great grandfather was in business with our state’s first governor,” said Autumn Zemke, who is running for Nevada State Assembly, District 4, this year. “Our state is a small community, and I want to change the narrative of Nevada and remind people we are Battleborn for a reason, that it is time for good people to raise their voices in support of their neighbors, and there is enough food, shelter, work and money in Nevada that we do not need to resort to demonizing and ‘othering’ those of different ethnic, religious, orientation, gender identity or anything else.”
Karen Abowd arrived in Nevada from California 40 years ago, raising her family and completing school at the University of Nevada, Reno, eventually opening her own design firm.
Politics was not on her radar, beyond the fact the family-owned business, Cafe at Adele’s, has been a non-partisan gathering place for politicians during each legislative session.
That changed with her first run for Carson City Supervisor, eight years ago.
“Food insecurity issues had come up, and I felt it was time to be in a position where I could directly effect change,” she said.
Now in the last months of her second term, it’s time to move on.
“We’ve done a lot of good work during my tenure, the most recent receiving the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (Tiger) grant for $75 million, primarily because of the partnerships between various entities and organizations we’ve developed,” Abowd said. “Secretary (Elaine) Chao was here and said this level of cooperation is not something often seen … this is a key point of supporting women being in office.”
At 32, Britton Griffith is also a Native Nevadan and the youngest person to hold a seat on the Reno City Planning Commission, a role she never anticipated.
“I studied law at University of Nevada, Reno, I hated it, so then I sold advertising for Fox and hated it, then I taught children communication skills through drama which was fun, but I needed to pay the bills, and then … I became a certified yoga teacher,” Griffith said, laying out the long road to 2011, when she joined her father’s business, Reno Engineering, full time, got her real estate license and fell in love with her work.
“Everything happened organically, and I found I had an aptitude for selling, leasing, renovations, permitting, understanding special use permits and found myself learning about government policies,” she said. “As far as the political side, I’m not sure how that happened, but I had worked on Naomi Duerr’s campaign (for Reno City Council), got this weird bug and was appointed to the commission by Mayor (Hillary) Schieve, who has been an amazing mentor.”
Having a seat at the table allows Griffith to inform the City Council of projects to be considered. She is involved in advancing discussions and ideas of how to resolve the region’s current housing crisis, and to provide housing for the houseless, topics about which she is passionate.
“We have good people on the commission, and I have learned a lot from and look to Kevin Weisk for direction,” Griffith said, adding that Kevin’s wife, Patty, is the driving force behind Dress 4 Success, one of several women empowerment programs in which Griffith is involved.
Each of these women finds the hands-on of doing to be far more enriching than being on the sidelines, but knowing there are costs is important
“Speaking for myself, I knew how much time it would take to run and then fulfill my duties, and then there is the fear of what fallout my family would have to deal with because of my decisions and dealing with the community, all of which was bad enough at a county level and I think women think about these things before they decide to run for office,” Abowd said. “Women have amazing skillsets, more organization skills, tend to work well at getting people together to address issues and create solutions, and don’t care so much about who takes credit as long as we accomplish our goal.”
She is happy to see more women coming into politics and government at all levels believing they have an inherent dedication, willingness to get the job done and extend their hands to lift others, qualities that women are finally using to their advantage.
“Women have traditionally run for office as men, exercising power and authority the same, which has been a mistake, and men have for far too long dismissed women,” Zemke said. “We are not men, and finally women are realizing our unique qualities are our strength.”
Griffith also sees women making progress.
“It never occurred to me I could do this, I love what I do and plan on going further and have a drive to influence our girls to study science and tech – to become the woman who knows she can do anything,” Griffith said. “Everything in life is serendipitous … we just need to keep our head up, be proud, know that if it feels wrong don’t do it, and if it feels good, go for it.”
Karel C. Ancona is a freelance writer who served as a contributing editor to the inaugural Sierra Nevada Powerful Woman magazine. Click here to read a digital copy of the magazine.
To qualify, an applicant’s ranch or farm must have belonged to his or her family for at least 100 years and must be a working ranch or farm with a minimum of 160 acres. Operations with fewer than 160 acres must have gross yearly sales of at least $1,000.