Bipartisan women legislators host entrepreneurs, students

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 16-Apr-2010

A bipartisan group of female legislators spent an entire legislative day this week being “shadowed” by women entrepreneurs and girls from ASTEC Charter High School. Sen. Connie Johnson, an Oklahoma City Democrat, said the girls were “learning the ‘who, what and how’ of public policy. When women are involved there is a broader picture in making public policy.” The legislators and the business women have agreed to serve as mentors for the girls.

The entrepreneurs and students gained their insight from women in the Legislature from every corner of Oklahoma, including Johnson and her fellow Democrats: Sens. Mary Easley of Tulsa, Judy Eason McIntyre of Tulsa, Susan Paddack of Ada, and Debbe Leftwich of Oklahoma City and Reps. Rebecca Hamilton of Oklahoma City, Jeannie McDaniel of Tulsa and Anastasia Pittman of Oklahoma City.

Republicans participating were state Rep. Leslie Osborn of Tuttle, one of the event organizers, and her fellow GOP caucus members, Reps. Ann Coody of Lawton, Lee Denney of Cushing, Sally Kern of Oklahoma City, Skye McNiel of Bristow, Pam Peterson of Tulsa and Sue Tibbs of Tulsa. 

Organizing the day was the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women (IEEW), organized by entrepreneur Terry Neese. She told CapitolBeatOK, “Women entrepreneurs often tell me they believe that politics is dirty. I think that is unfortunate, but they feel that way. However, increasingly they also feel that they must get involved. Once they see that they can make a difference by working directly with a public official, they understand the good effect they can have. They come to realize the effect that politics, especially partisan politics, can have on their businesses.”

Freda Deskin, founder of ASTEC – the first charter school “start-up” in Oklahoma history – said at a press conference when the day began, “I have strongly encouraged our young women to be involved and to use their education to learn how to make a difference. It is good to see them take this time to develop one-on-one relationships with women in business and in the Legislature. The girls at ASTEC were anxious and excited to participate in this.”

Deskin continued, “At ASTEC, we have been fortunate to have good collaboration. This is a way for our students to get good first hand experience. All young people, by and large, have the aptitude but they do not always get the opportunity of a day like this.”

Rep. Osborn missed Tuesday’s press conference due to obligations on the floor of the House, but in a statement provided to CapitolBeatOK she explained her enthusiasm for the effort: “This kind of opportunity to connect elected officials with our constituents is not only innovative on behalf of IEEW, but it’s filling a need. It is essential that all citizens know how important it is to be involved in their local governments to ensure that our democracy is running the way it should be.”

Neese said the program “had the effect of opening up the windows, opening up state politics to better understanding.” She said she had  “had calls from other states. This is Civics 101 in action. There is nothing quite like this anywhere else in the country.”