Reflections on an Internship: Women in Kentucky Politics

February 16, 2014 in 1960s-1970s, Political history

Elisabeth Jensen for CongressLast semester, I had the opportunity to intern with Elisabeth Jensen, a woman running to be the next Congresswoman of the 6th congressional district, which includes Lexington, Frankfort, and Richmond. I heard of this opening through the internship coordinator from my summer internship with Congressman John Yarmuth. She had told me about the importance of empowering women in politics and encouraged me to get involved with Elisabeth’s campaign.

I knew that this internship would be different from when I worked with Congressman Yarmuth in Louisville, mainly because Elisabeth was new to politics and had decided to enter the race only in May of last year—a few months before I started my internship. She did not have much experience in politics at all; in fact, she had previously worked with Disney and in merchandising.  Nonetheless, I could tell that Elisabeth was passionate about running and it seemed that she believed in helping the district. Currently, she is the director and president of Race for Education, a non-profit in Lexington that provides scholarships and educational services for those in financial need. Elisabeth was also a graduate of Emerge Kentucky, a program in Louisville that provides classes and workshops for women interested in running for a political position.

Elisabeth Jensen and son Will

Elisabeth Jensen, at home with her nine-year old son, Will

Since women are underrepresented in politics, I wanted to know if Elisabeth had dealt with any negativity during the campaign. Interestingly, she explained that the Lexington Democrat community has been very supportive of her and she has not faced any animosity because she is a woman or because of her lack of political experience. She also said she was aware of the feeling towards women in politics and has actually faced more sexism while working in the business world.

Women in Kentucky politics have been increasing in recent years. Programs like Emerge have been instrumental in training and empowering women to take on government jobs. During the civil rights area, African-American women such as Georgia Davis Powers and Mae Street Kidd were part of the few who dared to go down a predominately white, male-dominated career path in which very few women, or African-American women at that, seemed bold enough to do. Nonetheless, the charisma these women had certainly helped to influenced the civil rights in Kentucky. Currently, there aren’t very many African-American women in politics, but women such as Governor Martha Layne Collins and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes are representing a new generation that can continue to serve as torchbearers and role models for younger women hoping to one day make an impact in politics.

Alison Lundergan Grimes

Kentucky Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes (photo from Wikipedia)

It is interesting that Elisabeth was running with two other Democratic candidates—both of whom dropped out of the race in November of last year—who were men, making her the only woman running on the Democratic ticket for Andy Barr’s position. I think it takes much audacity and strength for her to continue in the race and it is clear that Representative Andy Barr’s experience and expensive campaign certainly won’t scare her away.

In terms of the internship itself, I learned a lot about the campaigning side of politics. I think it is probably the toughest part, especially when it is your first election, which makes fundraising a bit more challenging when trying to make a name for yourself. It is helpful that other women before Elisabeth have made the effort less taxing, perhaps providing motivation and encouragement knowing that even African-American women were capable of achieving feats that no one ever thought could be accomplished.

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