By Sarah Settle
The NCSL Women’s Legislative Network is pleased 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 important, pursuing their dreams. We have interviewed three of our four award winners so check out what makes these women so impressive.
Representative Kay Khan, Massachusetts, Democrat
Representative Kay Khan didn’t take what most would consider the traditional path into politics. As a girl, she was inspired by her mother’s leadership and strong voice in the PTA—a voice that would eventually lead her mother to testify on child nutrition before Senator Hubert Humphrey and Congress. After growing up in this environment of community-focused service, Khan went on to pursue a career in nursing, a background that has served her well in the legislature.
Q: In your time as a legislator so far of what are you most proud?
A: I’ve had the opportunity to do many things. I was a nurse and I came into the legislature with that background. I’ve been involved in pushing forward the need to focus more attention on mental health. I think bringing that voice to the legislature is something.
I got started early on working with another legislator who tackled the issue of women who came into the criminal justice system. What I brought to the table was my interest in mental health. I formed a mental health caucus. It is a caucus that is focuses on the needs of the mentally ill. I organized forums that would educate my colleagues. Twenty-three years ago, there wasn’t a lot of knowledge or understanding about the needs of the mentally ill. We talked about what is mental health and what is a mental illness and what does it look like. We looked at it not just in adults but in children.
Q: What was the last book you read that inspired you? What books are on your bedside table?
A: It is hard to find the time with all that is going on but I picked up a book recently to read, “Underground Railroad” by Colton Whitehead.
I also started the “The Plot Against America” by Phillip Roth. It is fiction but it really capitalizes on what is going on in America. It is all about the skepticism we are up against now.
Q: If you were to give advice to any young women across the country graduating from high school, what would it be?
A: Follow your passion. Don’t be afraid to take risks. When I was running for office for the first time, I went to hear a psychologist talk. She said that women want to know something 200 percent before they take a chance on it. Really believe in yourself. I think having a mentor is a good thing. Find a mentor, people that believe in you and talk to you. Learn how not to be afraid to speak in public and have the confidence to get up and speak your feelings, thoughts and opinions.
I think it is important for women to think about getting in the loop in terms of politics. There are lots of organizations now that want to see and help women become active in politics. Women’s voices are very important. I want to encourage women to think about working for office. I hope that young people start to think about it more and get active.
Sarah Settle is staff coordinator of NCSL's Foundation and Member Outreach.