Representative Brenda Gilmore’s strong background in volunteer work and political campaigns has played a large role in her successfully representing her constituents in the state legislature since 2006. While she was initially reluctant to volunteer to work for her first political campaign as she was juggling a lot of responsibilities at the time, she quickly rose through the ranks to become the campaign’s manager. Indeed, she found that she had a real knack for politics, noting that whenever she made asks ranging from hosting a party or running a poll, people were very receptive. Her success gave her the confidence to run for office, and in her first campaign, she beat an incumbent to gain her current seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives.
During her tenure in the Tennessee House, Representative Gilmore has been a champion for her constituents, and one of her key issues is criminal justice reform. Her passion for criminal justice reform was sparked when she hosted a job fair for those who had been incarcerated and was stunned by the turnout with 3,000 former inmates in attendance. It was a sharp contrast to a perception held by some that men and women with a criminal record do not want to work, and she was determined to provide a much-needed second chance for those who paid their debt to society.
After she was elected as the Chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, Representative Gilmore held public hearings on incarceration and its impact on the communities. From this public hearing came multiple pieces of draft legislation, including HB 2442, sponsored in January 2016 by Representative Gilmore personally to “ban the box” or prohibit state employers from including boxes on initial application forms to check whether an applicant has a criminal background when applying for state jobs in Tennessee.
With the support of the governor who had recently created a task force to look into incarceration, it was an opportune time to sponsor HB 2442, which passed with support of both legislative houses and was signed into law by the governor in April 2016. While she had originally intended the bill to apply to both the public sector and the private sector, she acknowledged that there was not sufficient support from business associations for this legislation.
She argued that a willingness to compromise is absolutely key to passing legislation. “You need to be willing to reach across the aisle,” said Gilmore. ”If it means that much to you, then you also have to be willing to negotiate.”
A high priority piece of legislation that Representative Gilmore will push for in 2017 is a modification of the Drug-Free School Zone Act that provides for enhanced criminal penalties for any drug offenses within one thousand feet of a school, child care agency, library, or public park. While she clearly condemns the illegal nature of drug use, she finds that this results in those living in urban areas facing higher penalties that those living in rural areas due to the density of these public facilities. Representative Gilmore pointed out the Kentucky recently reduced this zone from 1,000 feet to 300 feet and that she looks to use this legislation as a model for her own work next year.
When asked what advice she would give to girls and women who hope to run for office, Representative Gilmore stated, “Talk to as many people as you can, both those who have been successful and those who have not been successful.”
She noted the importance of attending neighborhood meetings to get to know the issues and to volunteer for other campaigns to support other women. Gilmore added, “Don’t be afraid to ask for money, and in the end just do it!” Representative Gilmore declared that while many women have the skills necessary to run for office, they do not recognize how these skill sets can transfer into being a public servant.
Representative Gilmore proudly joined the ranks of Women In Government leadership as a State Director due to its support of not only women in Nashville but also women across the country. She is a true champion for women as evidenced by her call to action for women who do not ultimately choose to run for office. – “If you don’t want to run for office, you should support other women,” said Gilmore. “There’s still a role for you to help and build good public policy.”
About Future WIG
Women In Government supports women of all ages in leadership roles, and is working hard to ensure that young women are given the resources and mentorship they need in order to achieve their goals. This program takes place at WIG Regional conferences, where WIG asks women state legislators and leaders in the private sector to encourage young women across the country to pursue leadership roles. This program is made possible by Southwest Airlines.