She was the first female Majority Leader of the Tennessee State House, and now she’s running to become the first female Governor of the state.
With Tennessee having both an anti-choice state house and senate and several restrictions on a woman’s right to choose, Kim McMillan’s leadership as governor is needed. She’s had the ability to break into the good ol’ boys club of the Tennessee state legislature and gain great respect, despite her belief in defending women’s reproductive health choices.
When McMillan ran for Tennessee State House in 1994, there were only three women serving in the State Senate and 13 in the State House. With such a lack of female role models, what sparked McMillan’s motivation to run? Her children. She wanted to ensure they had every opportunity to be as successful as possible. She also realized the great need for female leadership in her state:
“I began to look at the state legislature and noticed there were very few women…and very few younger people. The last time I checked, we have a representative democracy and your state legislature should look like the population looks.”
With McMillan’s children being one and two years-old at the time,
she faced questions and criticism about her decision to run. How will
she do it? What about her law firm and husband? Her response was that
every working mother faces the same challenging balancing act, whether
they’re running for office or not.
“I wanted to show that you can do it. You can raise a family and have children who are successful. I tell women all the time when they ask me, ‘can you do it all’ – no you can never have it all. But you can do more than you think you can.”
She was also told, “Well, you’re a woman and that’ll be a
detriment.” But despite these objections and being one of the few women
in the state house, McMillan’s hard work, intelligence, and leadership
earned her the respect of all her colleagues.
She was elected Majority Leader because everyone knew she would do
the best job, regardless of her gender. However, she admits that being
the underrepresented minority will always require you to work harder
than others, and she promotes the idea of having all different voices
represented in public office, including women.
“There are experiences and issues that women may have knowledge about that some of the male legislators just don’t have. It’s not because they don’t understand, it’s just that they haven’t dealt with or experienced it.”
For example, her first year in office there was a task force setup
to tackle child care reform. But no one on the task force had young
children, and all of them were men. McMillan thought that was a bit
odd, so she took action to get onto the committee. She succeeded, and
her experiences and ideas helped shape what probably ended up being a
better reform for child care.
McMillan believes it’s important for women to step up and show that
they can be successful to inspire even more women to get involved. But
as we know, the political world continues to have prejudice toward
When I asked McMillan if she has encountered any sexism during her
campaigns, she responded, “Oh, absolutely.” In fact recently, an anti-choice blog post criticized her hairstyle. She knows this kind of comment is made solely because of her gender, but doesn’t let it get to her.
“I believe that as women we can’t let that affect our efforts to move forward. Because it just doesn’t matter. I’m sorry those people don’t like my hairstyle, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m just going to keep moving forward and I’m just not going to let it affect my efforts to try to become governor of Tennessee.”
In regard to how heavily women candidates are criticized by their
appearance, McMillan joked how if she were male, all she would have to
do is buy six blue suits, some khaki pants and blue shirts: “Their
biggest decision is what color tie am I going to wear?”
On the much more important matter of reproductive health choices, McMillan stated her beliefs in a very simple and true way:
“It is a decision to be made by the person who is actually being affected by that decision.”
In reaction to the issue of fundraising, McMillan admitted that people might be more likely to look at women candidates with less money more unfavorably than they would a male in the same position. However, she has always felt comfortable with her fundraising efforts.
“I’ve run seven races in the past and I have always had less funding than everyone else. I’ve never had a problem. I set goals that are reasonable. You don’t always have to have the most—you have to have enough to be viable.”
McMillan expressed gratitude for her Women’s Campaign Forum
endorsement, and knows how much national support can mean to a campaign:
“Politics is a funny business, because oftentimes if people see that others believe in you, then they can believe in you too.”
McMillan is passionate about getting more women into public leadership, and knows we must overcome the ambition gap between men and women in running for office in the first place.
“It’s not that women are running and constantly getting beat, it’s that women don’t run in the first place. We have to tell women, you can succeed. You never know if you don’t try.”
And if there’s anyone who knows that women can succeed in a male-dominated field, it’s certainly Kim McMillan.
Content cross-posted from Women and Politics.org.