By Sarah Settle
The NCSL Women’s Legislative Network is thrilled to announce the winners of the third annual 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. The Women’s Legislative Network was lucky enough to interview all four of our award winners—check out what makes these women so remarkable!
Representative Geran Tarr, Alaska, Democrat
Alaska Representative Geran Tarr has had a lifelong interest in community activism and social justice. Before becoming a legislator, she was heavily involved in environmental and women’s issues and spent some time working as a legislative aide. But it was only after a conversation about her future with Representative Sharon Cissna that she considered running for office.
“I really love this job," she says. "It felt like I gained 18,000 new family members. I really like getting to make a difference. I represent the poorest district in Anchorage and a lot of the families live on the edge for one reason or another. I feel so much passion for representing the families that I do because they are working so hard. I feel like there are a lot of biases about poor people and I want to tell their story and dispel those myths.”
In your time as a legislator so far, of what are you most proud?
I work a lot on child abuse. Our [Alaska’s] rates our much higher than the national average: Sexual abuse is six times the national rate. I came into the legislature and looked around and saw this as an unmet need.
I’ve focused on child abuse prevention. We passed Erin’s Law, which focuses on educating children about sexual abuse and the resources available to help them. We also passed a rape kit backlog law. These all get at interpersonal violence. The effects of these issues are lifelong. Older women come up to me and cry and tell me their stories. Our rape kit backlog law is victim centered and seeks to not to re-victimize. We are making systemic changes. It gets me up every day with energy and passion. I really think we are making a difference and we are hearing stories that we are.
The problems feel so big. Making these lasting changes makes me feel hopeful.
What was the last book you read that inspired you?
"The Mango Bride." I got to meet the author. It is a really special story about domestic violence and the culture norms around domestic violence. It was really interesting because I represent a diverse area and it reinforced that you have to be sensitive to different culture norms when raising an issue.
If you were to give advice to young women across the country graduating from high school, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to be the first person to do something. I’ve noticed in a lot of the families I represent that it’s an interesting and hard thing to be the first one in your family to do something (college, going against culture norms). I represent the most diverse neighborhood in the U.S. Some of these young people have to be really brave and be the first person in their family to do something and create a new culture. Sometimes family members struggle because they didn’t have those opportunities. Don’t be afraid to be the first person to do something. The change can be difficult, but it can be very good and eventually everyone can come along.
Cities can seem big and overwhelming and isolating. I’m so proud of the people who persevere. That’s another cool thing about this job. You get to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise, and people can be pretty inspiring.
As we were wrapping up our interview, Tarr wanted to say something to the other winners of the 2018 Women in Politics Making a Difference Awards:
“I want to congratulate the three other women and thank them for their service," she says. "It is an honor to be included among them. Thank you to them for being inspirational. I want to continue to remind women everywhere of the important role they can play in public service and for them to know I am cheering them on and want them to know the difference they can make in their community."
Sarah Settle is staff coordinator for Member Outreach and the NCSL Foundation.