Women arriving in politics in Kentucky is on the rise

Kuttawa Mayor Barbara Campbell stands in her office at City Hall holding an award she received from the Kentucky League of Cities. She was appointed mayor in 2020.

PRINCETON — Stateline and Forward Kentucky published two articles in March during Women’s History Month celebrating Kentucky’s increase in women joining legislatures. There was a 10.9% increase over the past years in Kentucky, helping bring legislative seats held by women in the U.S. to 2,259.

The mayor of Kuttawa is Barbara Campbell. She was entering her 17th year of retirement before being called to action. As a newly appointed mayor, she said “I consider it an honor and a privilege to be the first female mayor in Kuttawa. I think the future is bright for good things to come to our city.”

Her background is in government but not politics. She served as clerk for various city halls for most of her adult life.

Campbell’s husband, James “Jimmy” Campbell, was mayor of Kuttawa until his death in December 2019.

“We worked alongside each other, and I saw a lot of the work he did,” Campbell said.

Campbell has lived in Lyon County her entire life. Her trajectory into mayor was not planned, but it was on the chart, considering her proximity to mayors and the role she filled in local government.

Seven states surround Kentucky. Of those, Tennessee and West Virginia are experiencing a downward trend in female politicians. Tennessee’s 10-year negative percentage change was 2.2% and West Virginia’s was 4.5%, according to Forward Kentucky.

Across state lines, Illinois boasts the largest percentage of women-held legislative seats, 38.4%, according to a 2020 Forward Kentucky article.

Pew Charitable Research confirms a nationwide increase in female elected officials. Over the past decade, women elected to state legislatures increased from 23% to 30%.

Morgan Rousseau joined Princeton City Council in 2018. “Princeton is my hometown, and it’s going to be my hometown for the foreseeable future,” she said.

She has work and family investments that grounds her civic action, passion and purpose in Princeton.

While in education, Rousseau started as a high school teacher, and she now is a city council member, chamber of commerce president, and education consultant.

The U.S. vice president is a woman, even more, she is not a white woman. Two milestones in politics were achieved within the past decade that were perhaps inconceivable during a public health emergency — ongoing — and a siege on the nation’s capital.

“I think we’ll continue to see more and more women in the forefront of politics. We should be represented just as fairly as men are, we are not a minority,” Rousseau said.

Campbell observed and learned from her husband’s grandmother, Faylyne Travis Adams, who served as Lyon County circuit clerk for 37 years.

“It was through watching her being a woman in public office that gives me pride in the work I do,” Campbell said.

For Stateline, Elaine S. Povich wrote, “When legislatures don’t have a lot of women, it can make a difference in how legislation concerning women is perceived and whether it passes.”

Rousseau also spent time documenting and studying her women peers. Before her appointment, Rousseau related to a former city council member.

“She was totally proactive about our community and moving it forward, and I felt like she and I were both likeminded,” Rousseau said. “I feel like we have become a much more progressive city.”

The significance and impact of increasing women legislatures and female politicians has activated a gendered lens, wherein legislation derived from Congress and local government will “not go unnoticed that a mostly male legislature was making laws governing women’s bodies.”

“Equitable participation of women, especially in local politics, is essential to building and maintaining a strong community,” Rousseau said.

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