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Wendy Reuer, Published June 10 2012

Women take charge: Enderlin home to female political trailblazers

ENDERLIN, N.D. – Two women here will go head to head in the only exclusively female race for a North Dakota legislature seat.

Democrat Naomi Muscha and Republican Myrene Peterson are both seeking election in November as the District 24 Representative.

While women currently comprise less than 20 percent of state lawmakers, Enderlin voters have been trailblazers for women on the road to the capitol.

The city of less than 900 was home to Agnes Geelan, the first North Dakota woman elected mayor and, 1950, the first female to serve as a state senator.

Prior to public service, Geelan was a teacher and served on the Enderlin School Board for one term. She told a University of North Dakota researcher in 1975 that she witnessed a lot of sexual discrimination in debates over teachers’ salaries, and her frustration over the matter kept her from running for re-election.

More than 60 years later, Muscha and Peterson are hoping to carry on Geelan’s legacy of representing women.

The women are seeking one of two District 24 House seats. Former District 24 Reps. Phillip Mueller and Ralph Metcalf, both democrats from Valley City, are retiring.

Muscha and Peterson agree that being a woman brings a different perspective to the lawmaking process.

“We need to make sure our voice is heard, too,” Peterson said.

While the two may be on opposite sides of the aisle, they share many similarities. Both are first-time challengers in a state race, mothers and teachers.

“I believe that people really can make a difference,” Muscha said.

Both women name education as a top priority if elected.

Peterson said equalizing opportunities is important.

“Just because of where you live should not affect the quality of education you receive,” she said.

Peterson has long been involved in politics, attending her first Republican convention at age 8. She currently manages her husband’s veterinary clinic and helps on the couple’s sheep farm.

“This is at my first run at politics in North Dakota. I’ve been active in the party all my life,” Peterson said.

Sharing values such as a strong military support and smaller government has kept her wrapped in the Republican red.

“The more local you keep it, the better,” she said.

Peterson said keeping an eye on the state finances will be especially important as the state continues down its path of economic boom.

“We must use our money wisely so we develop a healthy state not spend our money frivolously,” she said. “It’s easy when you have a lot of money to suddenly spend it.”

Muscha agrees with careful spending, but said whether or not Measure 2 passes or fails on Tuesday, property tax reform should still be addressed.

“We need to have some changes,” she said. “(Property taxes) do need to be re-evaluated.”

With a husband who has worked in Bismarck on behalf of unions and as a teacher of social studies, Muscha was often acquainted with lawmakers who visited her classes to speak. She also encouraged students to be involved in government. After retiring from teaching last year, she said she felt this was her opportunity to get directly involved.

Muscha said she’s not making any campaign promises, but along with improving education opportunities, she would like to be involved with human services, if elected.

“I’m not naïve in the fact that I’m going to go to Bismarck and demand this and that and it is going to change,” Muscha said. “I know we do have various issues in our state that could be dealt with.”

Muscha said she’d also like to focus on what she can do locally, perhaps helping address road repair and maintenance needed in her district.

District 24 includes the cities of Valley City, Enderlin, Fort Ransom, Oriska and Tower City.