SPRINGFIELD — At a time when the number of women in the General Assembly has dropped, Terri Bryant's election as the first female representative from southern Illinois stands out.
Other women have run in the area, but Bryant, a Republican from Murphysboro, is the first to win, said Southern Illinois University political scientist John Jackson of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale.
“This is a very traditional and socially conservative district and there has been a certain bias in favor of male candidates in the rural U.S. and internationally,” Jackson said.
She won in the November 2014 election that saw the number of women in the 118-member Illinois House drop from 61 to 54. The 59-member state Senate's gender mix remained unchanged with 15 women.
Jackson said it has been very hard for women to get elected because of the bias. He believes Bryant was elected because of “the Republican red wave that over ran everything in sight.”
In the same election, Republicans expanded their U.S. House majority and captured a majority in the U.S. Senate.
Jackson said the use of attack ads by Bryant's opponent, Bill Kilquist, also may have had an effect. “They overdid the attack on her," Jackson said.
Jackson said Democrats tend to have more female candidates than Republicans do, so the decline of women in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly is odd.
Bryant, who won the seat Mike Bost vacated for a successful congressional run, said she didn't want to exploit her gender in her campaign because she wants to represent everyone.
“On a personal level, it’s very exciting. To be the first of anything, it’s a milestone. I’m holding that close to my heart,” Bryant said.
Bryant, who has been involved in programs like Illinois Lincoln Excellence in Public Service Series, which helps prepare women to get involved in political positions, said she got some very good advice: “Don’t always stick to things that are traditionally in the box for where you are in life.”
She calls herself a nontraditional woman because of her background in criminal justice, hunting, fishing, and her interest in issues not stereotypically for women such as coal mining and trucking. She has worked at the Department of Corrections since 1994.
Because of those interests, Bryant can relate to and represent a wide variety of people in her district.
“I think the times are ready for a woman to hold this seat,” Bryant said.