Sue Fuchtman’s retirement following two terms as Mayor of Norfolk left voids in local government. There’s the obvious void of the City Council and city staff adjusting to a new city leader, but there’s another, more symbolic void she left.
Right now there are no women in an elected position in city government or county government in Madison County.
“I knew representation was weak, but I didn’t realize it was that profound,” Northeast Community College American Government instructor Gary Timm said. “And that’s disappointing.”
Timm says it’s not uncommon to have more men than women in government.
“The numbers are staggering. There’s some research out there that says if we continue at this pace, maybe in 500 years, literally in 500 years, we will be to the point that it would be true representation,” Timm said.
But how does Northeast Nebraska compare to numbers at the state and national levels? Well, not very well.
Women make up 19.4 percent of Congress and 26.5 percent of the Nebraska unicameral.
According to a nine county sample of northeast Nebraska, 11 out of 160 city and county elected officials are women, or just 6.875 percent. Marlene Johnson of West Point is the only female mayor in the nine county range.
But does this matter? Are northeast Nebraskan’s missing out on anything by not having many women in government? Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning says so.
“I think having women serve in local elected office brings a valuable perspective,” Moenning said. “So, yes, I do believe that input, that unique perspective on various aspects of community life is important for us to have.”
Timm elaborated on the perspective that Moenning mentioned. He said current state and national politics are marked by polarization and divisiveness, and having more women involved could help solve that.
“Women lawmakers tend to be more willing to sit across the table from each other, problem solve, they tend to be a little more pragmatic.”
And that description happens to be how Fuchtman describes her mayoral platform.
“Look each other in the eye and voice your opinion, give reason for, and then talk it out,” Fuchtman said. “That’s what I ran on, really, both times.”
Fuchtman and all the subjects interviewed for this story say it’s likely a coincidence that there’s so few women in government in the region, but all said communities would benefit with more involved women. Fuchtman said a constituent said it to her best.
“There was a woman that came up to me and said, you know, you truly have been what I believe is a true woman in a leadership position,” Fuchtman said. “You know, she said, it would make me proud if we could see other leaders that have that same ability have the confidence to step up and do it.”