SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota — There is no such thing as a man's work and a woman's work on South Dakota's expansive farms, and that egalitarian mentality is pushing more women than ever to seek top statewide offices.
This November, they want to make sure South Dakota politics is no longer a boy's club.
The women's ambitions are visible — one's running for governor, two for lieutenant governor, one for secretary of state and Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem faces a woman Democrat for the state's lone Congressional seat — though it's unlikely immediate dominance will come about in this conservative, incumbent-friendly state.
Noem, seeking her third term, said it is imperative that women continue to run because leadership should reflect its population.
"Women have a tendency to need to be recruited more often than they make up their minds and decide to run," Noem said. "I think women want to see more women being recruited and serving as the majority of the population that votes is women. I think that would be a natural progression that could continue to happen."
The number of female voters has exceeded the number of male voters in every presidential election since 1964, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, and women have also outnumbered men among registered voters at least since 1980.
About 23 percent of South Dakota's 105 legislative seats are currently occupied by women— 1 percent below the national average cited by the National Conference of State Legislatures — and about 26 percent of candidates who made it through June's primary are women.
Democrats are challenging Republicans Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Lt. Gov. Matt Michels this year with a two-woman ticket. Susan Wismer, a state representative from Britton, won the primary and chose Susy Blake as her running mate.
Wismer said the possibility of being the first woman to be nominated by a major party for the state's high office wasn't her motivation to enter the race, but she knows her supporters are excited about the prospect of a woman serving as governor.
"Democrats have a lot of strong women both incumbent legislators and new candidates in several districts," she said. "Each time I become aware of a new one I'm tickled because it's a great, great thing to see."
In South Dakota's judicial circles, Judith Meierhenry was heralded for becoming the first woman appointed to the state's Supreme Court in 2002. But she broke another barrier years before in 1988, when she became only the second female judge in South Dakota.
Now retired, Meierhenry said she believes it's people's attitudes that have brought more women into political and judicial circles.
"I think it would be expected that women can do the same kinds of jobs that men do and that there isn't that role differentiation between men and women that there would have been 50 years ago," Meierhenry said. "I think people expect that the institutions that they rely on reflect the percentage that they represent in society."
Despite their wide ideological differences, Noem and Wismer both said their childhoods shaped their politics-has-no-gender attitude.
"When I grew up in our family farm, my dad raised me that I could do anything that the boys could," Wismer said. "I never looked at a job as something that I couldn't do or wasn't open to me, and that's a perspective that I've found it's extremely valuable to me in whatever comes my way."
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