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 interviewed all four of our award winners—check out what makes these women so remarkable!
Senator Sara Howard, Nebraska, Democrat
Nebraska Senator Sara Howard grew up in the district she now serves, but she had never envisioned a life in politics.
“I didn’t really have a political hero growing up because politics was not really my thing,” she says. It wasn’t until she saw her mom, Gwen Howard, who served their district before her, run, win and do the work that politics even seemed to be a possibility. “I think that’s a challenge for many women—we don’t see someone who looks like us doing this work.”
What prompted you to run?
My mom was serving in the legislature and my sister passed away. I was living in Chicago working at a maternal and child health nonprofit. I had been there a month when my sister passed away. It was unexpected—the way we lost Carrie and how quickly we lost her. She had an opioid addiction but had been through rehabilitation and was doing well for the 8 months before that. I moved back home [to Omaha] after a year [after her passing]. All these people would come talk to me about how they helped my mom, their legislator, after my sister died. When I decided to run it really wasn’t about feeling like I needed to run, it was I felt like I needed to give back to this community. I had a skillset that I could offer this community and I could put my career on hold.
In your time as a legislator so far, of what are you most proud?
The work that I’ve done on opioids. When I came in to the legislature, I didn’t want to work on this issue. I recall two years in, we had a hearing on opioids and I had to step out of the room. When I came in, we had the laxest prescription drug monitoring program. After year three, I picked it up and ran with it. I worked to completely revise our prescription drug monitoring program—its free to use, all drugs are tracked so there's better quality of care. I also wanted to work on the relationship between patient and doctor so that someone on your care team has a conversation with the patient about the dangers of opioids. We added a law that you need to show an ID to pick up, like with Sudafed, so usage could be tracked.
You never know if what you are doing in this job is truly making a difference. You hope, and you say to your colleagues it will. But this has. It will continue to have impact after I leave.
I am really lucky—my colleagues supported me almost always unanimously.
What was the last book that inspired you?
“Educated” by Tara Westover. She was homeschooled by Mormon doomsday preppers and she never stepped foot in a school until she was 17. It made me really grateful for the education that I had, and it made me realize that education looks very different for different people.
If you were to give advice to young women across the country graduating from high school, what would it be?
When I was younger, I think I spent a lot of time overthinking things. I would spend time thinking about things that didn’t merit my energies. Also, try a lot of things. As a culture, we don’t let ourselves dwell in possibilities. Love the questions and love the time you are in now. You don’t have to have it all figured out right away. I never knew I wanted to go into politics, but I knew I had a heart for helping people, and I let that guide me. If you open yourself up to possibilities instead of a set path, everything works out the way it is supposed to.
Sarah Settle is staff coordinator for Member Outreach and the NCSL Foundation.