By Sarah Settle
The NCSL Women’s Legislative Network is thrilled to announce the second annual winners of the Women in Politics Making a Difference Award. These female legislators have made an impressive impact in each of their states and local communities through perseverance, collaboration, and most importantly pursuing their dreams. We have interviewed three of our four award winners so check out what makes these women so impressive.
Senator Sally Doty, Mississippi, Republican
Running for political office was always on Senator Sally Doty’s to-do list. Growing up, she told me she always read the newspaper, and called herself a nerd. What kept her reading? Stories about Mississippi’s first female elected lieutenant governor, Evelyn Gandy, who Doty now says is one of her political heroes. “[She] put in my mind that politics was something I could do.”
She traces her political ambitions to her time at the Mississippi University for Women where she had the chance to serve as a student liaison to the Capitol. “I looked down from the Senate gallery and noticed there were no women.” It took her many years to finally get around to running for, and winning, a political seat. First she conquered the formidable task of raising three children—one of whom is still in high school—and having a successful legal career. After reading the glowing nomination we received, I was excited to speak with Doty to learn more about her passion for politics, her community and Mississippi.
Q: In your time as a legislator so far of what are you most proud?
A: I am equally proud of the things I’ve accomplished. It is a bit like having children: I love them all in different ways. Recently, legislation on a divorce statute. It had no changes in 40 years. Mississippi is a very religious and conservative state and we want marriages to be happy and successful and believe it is a foundation.
It is hard to be seen as a legislator pushing for easier divorce measures. I worked with a domestic violence coalition years before on restructuring federal funding. After completing that I began talking to them about what would help victims of domestic violence. They said it was very difficult to get out of marriages as you had to prove “fault grounds.” This meant someone else had to testify to corroborate the abuse. As a result, very few divorces were happening under this ground. The legislation I worked on and that passed, deletes the requirement for corroboration. It was a hard process and the legislation died a few times.
Q: If you could have dinner with anyone in the world that inspires you, alive or deceased, who would it be? What would you ask them?
A: There are so many different people that are possibilities. I am a very practical person. I would love to have dinner with Oprah. Her and I are from the same small town in Mississippi (Kosciusko). She has been very generous and done many good things in Mississippi. I’d love to sit down and talk to her about the issues we have in Mississippi and how she could help. A big issue we have here is teen and unplanned pregnancy and she is very supportive of women’s issues. I bet she’d be surprised to learn about some of the things we are doing about it here.
Q: If you were to give advice to any young women across the country graduating from high school, what would it be?
A: First of all, to take care of yourself—I say that in a very broad sense. There are so many dangers. Social media—what you post on there can impact you for the rest of your life, the situations you put yourself in can impact you for the rest of your life. I work with so many young women and they want to know should I do this or this? You can’t plan out your life, you just have to make good decisions and hang on for the ride. You can do it all but you may not be able to do it all at one time. There are a lot of different seasons in a woman’s life.
NCSL health policy specialist Kate Blackman wrote a State Legislatures magazine article on Doty’s teen and unplanned pregnancy legislation in April 2016.
Representative Kristin Conzet (S.D.), center, presented the awards to Senator Sally Doty (Miss.), right, Senator Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb (La.), left.
Sarah Settle is staff coordinator of NCSL's Foundation and Member Outreach.