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Anna G. Larson, Published January 03 2013

Women's advocate: Rep. Kathy Hawken prepares to begin her ninth session in ND House

JUPITER, Fla. - North Dakota Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, stayed with her daughter and son-in-law in Missouri for eight weeks to help them care for their newborn twin daughters who were born seven weeks early.

Hawken fed her granddaughters at 3 a.m. instead of campaigning during North Dakota’s 2004 District 46 election, and she was still in Missouri the day of the election.

“If I hadn’t gotten re-elected, life would’ve gone on,” Hawken said.

Hawken, 65, is known for her strong family values, particularly for standing up for women and children. She was recently named as chair of the national group Women in Government’s board of directors for 2013.

The nonpartisan organization of women state legislators, in which Hawken has been active for more than 10 years, provides leadership opportunities, networking, expert forums and educational resources to address and resolve public policy issues.

Despite her accomplishments, being in the Legislature isn’t easy, especially for women, Hawken said.

She recalled a male legislator remarking that instead of being in politics, she should be at home taking care of her husband.

“It’s still there, and it’s mind-boggling. It’s not so much in the Senate as in the House,” Hawken said, referring to sexism. “Not all men are like that, but it’s there, and even some young men are thinking like that.”

Only 21 of the 141 seats in North Dakota are occupied by women. Nationwide, women make up less than a quarter of all available seats, 1,746 of a total 7,382, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“If anything, we’ve gone backwards,” she said. “We need to get people to change that.”

One way to get more women in the legislature is to simply encourage them to run, Hawken said. She tells women to not be afraid of it.

“You need to stick your head above the crowd,” she said.

The importance of speaking up was, in part, instilled in Hawken by former Speaker of the North Dakota House of Representatives, Janet Wentz, Hawken said. She often imagines Wentz looking over her shoulder making sure she speaks her mind.

“I know full well that my voice might not make a difference, but at least it’s heard,” she said.

Hawken is known by fellow legislator and friend, Lois Delmore, D-Grand Forks, as a vocal person who gets work done.

“She’s someone you can count on to speak up on the floor,” Delmore said. “Kathy is one of the most effective legislators I know.”

Part of Hawken’s effectiveness is her ability to work with people from both political parties, Delmore said. Hawken described herself as a “more middle person” with moderate political views.

“I think women work better across the aisle because we’re networkers,” Delmore said.

The two women have sponsored legislation together and often vote similarly, Delmore said.

Hawken, a North Dakota native, originally planned to retire after the 2011 session, but announced earlier this year that she’d seek re-election. The death of Sen. Tom Fischer influenced her decision to run again. On Tuesday, she’ll start her ninth session in the House.

“I’m thinking I’m certifiably insane to do this again, but I know North Dakota has needs,” she said.

This fall, Hawken told The Forum that infrastructure, education and planning for growth are the three biggest issues the Legislature will need to address during the upcoming session.

Hawken’s interest in politics started as a child. Politics were her “someday when I grow up” dream, she said.

Fellow native Fargoan, Carol Hamilton, met Hawken when the two were junior high cheerleaders in Fargo. Hamilton said Hawken was motivated to drive change at a young age.

“North Dakota is really lucky to have her,” Hamilton said. “She’s always cared about making a difference in the world.”

Despite the women’s difference in political parties (Hamilton is a Democrat living in Beverly Hills who was recently appointed to the United States National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization), they believe in a lot of the same things, like women, children and education, Hamilton said.

She supported Hawken’s re-election this year.

“She’s very moderate, and she cares about getting good results,” Hamilton said.

Hawken has served as a North Dakota representative since 1997.

Hawken plans to retire in four years, after 20 years as a state legislator.

She has been honored as the North Dakota Children’s Champion, Women’s Health Advocate, Women’s Legislative Pace Setter, North Dakota Student Association Advocate, and North Dakota Association for Career and Technical Education Outstanding Legislator of the Year.

Hawken has served on the House Appropriations Committee and the State Board for Career and Technical Education.

“Every day when we stand there and say the pledge of allegiance, it’s overwhelming. It reminds me of why I’m here,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525