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Blumert joins small club of female county commissioners

Carrie Blumert

Carrie Blumert

Carrie Blumert showed up to the first day of training for newly elected county commissioners this week wearing a suit and heels.

When she walked in the door, she immediately found herself surrounded by about 50 men in cowboy boots.

“I was definitely the minority," Blumert said.

When Blumert, the incoming District 1 commissioner for Oklahoma County, is sworn in Jan. 2, she'll join a small club of women serving on county commissions across the state. Out of the 77 counties in Oklahoma, just seven — Oklahoma, Tulsa, Pottawatomie, Grant, Mayes, Haskell and Love — have female commissioners, according to the Oklahoma Association of County Commissioners.

Blumert isn't Oklahoma County's first female commissioner. When she takes office in January, she will replace outgoing District 1 Commissioner Willa Johnson. But Blumert said the lack of women serving on county commissions across the state is worrisome.

Although it isn't as much in the public eye as city or state government, county government has a number of important functions, Blumert said.

County commissions play a role in overseeing county jails, district court systems and the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges. Anytime entire categories of people, such as women, people of color, people with disabilities or people who have experienced incarceration, are left out of the conversation, policies won't reflect those people's needs, she said.

During last month's election, voters sent several women to the Oklahoma Legislature and one — Kendra Horn — to Congress. But those strides didn't extend to county commissions. Blumert said she's spoken with members of her campaign about finding ways to encourage more women to run for county commission seats across the state.

Gene Wallace, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of County Commissioners, said women are active participants in county government across the state, but they're more likely to serve in other roles, such as treasurer, county clerk or assessor.

It's uncommon for women to run for county commission seats, but the handful of female commissioners the state does have are exceptionally effective, he said.

Wallace said he thinks part of the reason for the trend is the nature of the work county commissioners have done in the past. Until recently, county commissioners spent much of their time dealing with road equipment — work that, decades ago, was seen as unsuitable for women. But as the work becomes more administrative and attitudes about women's roles change, Wallace said he thinks more female candidates will seek those posts in the future.

Silas Allen

Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. Read more ›