Representative Geran Tarr, elected into the Alaska House of Representatives in 2013, has always been a social servant at heart. Inspired by the idea of social service, Tarr was an active member of her community prior to running for office. Examples of her community involvement include being the President of her Community Council, serving as Chair of the Anchorage Women’s Commission, and being a member of Alaska Women for Political Action.
Today, Tarr celebrates the recent passage of Erin’s Law in Alaska on July 9, 2015. After learning that Alaska leads the nation in rates of domestic violence and child sexual abuse, Representative Tarr decided to re-introduce Erin’s law, and thereby endure a two-year battle before the legislation came into effect. Erin’s Law is inspired by Erin Merryn, a survivor of child sexual abuse. This law was shaped to prevent child sexual abuse by requiring schools to teach children personal body safety information, in addition to training teachers and staff to be able to identify signs of child sexual abuse. Working in conjunction with Erin Merryn and public schools, Tarr was able to create a community coalition in support of the law. To garner support, Representative Tarr addressed the issue on television and was able to get Erin’s law placed in the special session. The result was overwhelming--when the time came to vote on the law, the vote was nearly unanimous with a resounding 59 of 60 votes in support. Thus, Alaska became the 26th state to pass Erin’s Law.
Also a passionate advocate for women’s rights, Tarr was not afraid to admit the importance of women in government during our interview. A huge challenge the United States and many countries in the world face is the lack of women in government. In order for a state or country to be well represented there is a need for a wide variety of representation. According to Representative Tarr, Alaska is approximately fifty percent male, fifty percent female. However, only around twenty percent of Alaska’s state legislators are women. As a result, thirty percent of Alaska’s population may not be accounted for. It is clear that our current representation does not reflect a diversity of interests. However, Representative Tarr raises the following question: what is impeding other women from being involved in government?
One possible deterring factor Tarr mentioned is family. Tarr admits that working in government requires many endless hours away from home for both male and female legislators. However, a problem arises when women are discouraged to run for office on account of their role as mothers, but the reverse is not true for men who are fathers. Another deterring factor is the lack of family-friendly policies within the government. In lieu of a lack of paid maternity or paternity leave, Representative Tarr advocates the creation of day-cares in government offices as a possible solution. Alaska’s capital houses a day-care for children of women who identify as state legislators and mothers. However, Representative Tarr explains that this is a newer facility that was only created after pregnant female legislators came together to make it happen. Although the solution seems simple, Representative Tarr identified that “Alaska may be one of the only state capitols with a day-care.” Lastly, Tarr listed fundraising as another deterring factor for women in government. For one, when female constituents donate money to female candidates, it tends to be in smaller quantities than their male counterparts. Historically, this has been due to the lack of women in the workforce. However, these trends are slowly reversing and Representative Tarr predicts that the influx of women into the workplace will facilitate change.
Despite the inherent challenges, Representative Tarr’s advice to any young woman seeking to run for office is to “believe in yourself, stay focused, and be involved in your community.” Not only will these characteristics prepare one to run for office, but they are important ingredients to live a life of social service.
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.