Revealing that she was in the process of purchasing roller blades for her eight year old granddaughter, Representative Kathy Hawken set the tone for our conversation. Representative Hawken is obviously not your average grandmother; she has been serving District 46 located in Fargo, North Dakota since 1997. Hawken saw the opportunity to achieve her goal of becoming elected to her state’s legislature in 1996 when two seats became vacant and her two children had both gone off to college. She mentioned her spouse Harry, with whom she celebrated 45 years of marriage this past February, being extremely supportive. Almost 20 years have passed since Hawken achieved something she wanted to do since high school, yet Hawken said, “Every session we stand up, we say a prayer and the pledge of allegiance and I think wow, I get to do this. I gotta do it right.”
According to Hawken, North Dakota’s Legislative Assembly has been well ahead of national trends in regards to women representation. She noted, “We have about 24% women in the state legislature, and it’s been that way since 1997. We have more young women, and it’s fun to have the younger voice.” Hawken is an active participant in the Women’s Caucus and prides herself on not being a politician. Hawken said, “I’m not a politician. I don’t play games very well. They say I put all my cards on the table. This has made me happy about my service in the state.”
Representative Hawken’s legislative priorities are reflective of her commitment to serving her constituents. Her priorities include women’s health issues such as dense breast tissue, behavioral health and mental health, and early childhood education and childcare quality. Most of the aforementioned priorities she learned about while attending events sponsored by Women in Government (WIG). Her proudest legislative accomplishment is improving early childcare by increasing funding for training and daycare providers. Another major legislative achievement is the creation of the Heritage Center, which Hawken credits to bipartisan efforts; the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum contains thousands of artifacts and specimens, high-tech displays, and interactive exhibits help tell the story of the state of North Dakota.
Hawken has had some “not particularly positive” experiences as a self-described people pleaser. She mentioned, “The support of other ladies allowed me to make the best decision to move forward.” As a WIG board member, Representative Hawken said, “WIG has been a major part of my legislative life; I’ve learned a ton, and I’m a better legislator for it!” Representative Hawken has been involved with WIG for quite some time. While reflecting on her experience, she said, “I was asked to attend and the thing that stood out immediately to me was that people weren’t concerned about whether you’re a Republican or Democrat. WIG shows that it’s very doable to work across the aisle.” Hawken works mostly on health issues, as noted in her interest in women’s health and children’s health and she believes, “Maybe it’s easier to work on health issues in a non-partisan fashion.”
After serving her constituents for almost two decades, Representative Hawken shared advice that she received as a freshmen legislator. “Don’t talk!” Hawken says was “fabulous advice that I learned during my freshmen session from my friend who is now the First Lady of North Dakota.” Hawken says she learned to listen and quickly found out that there are two sides to every story. A favorite quote she keeps in mind is, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no one is entitled to their own facts.” To future women in government, Representative Hawken’s advice is “Get involved no matter what level of government, take public speaking, and form opinions on issues! We need more women involved because we provide a different voice, and you can’t make informed decisions without all the voices, even though there are different perspectives among the women voices. Don’t wait to be asked!”
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