Women in politics leading the way for others

“Those who are involved”

Throughout our country’s history, it has been difficult for women to get involved, especially in politics and the government. The first women’s rights convention took place in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, but it wasn’t until 1920 that the 19th amendment was passed giving women the right to vote. 

In America, men had more economic resources and more authority which is why it took so long for women to be socially allowed to be involved, according to Elaine Parsons, a history professor at Kent State. 

Today, there are 25 women in the senate and 101 women in the house, compared to 2014 when there were 20 women in the senate and 84 women in the house, setting a new record in our country’s history. 

College is a great place to get involved in politics and government as professors and the surrounding community members can be mentors. 

Melissa Roubic, Municipal Court Judge. Photo: Ryanne Locker

“One of the most rewarding aspects of being a lawyer is you do see people when they’re sometimes in their deepest, darkest point in their life and you help them get through that. You can literally see the light click on that, ‘okay, this was a rough period, but I can get through it and I’m going to be okay. Lesson learned.’ It’s very rewarding for me to see people recover from the depths of despair and know they’re going to be okay.”

Melissa Roubic is a Kent State alumna, who graduated with a computer science and management science bachelor’s degree. She then went to take night classes at Akron University to receive her Juris Doctorate in 1995.  

There are two reasons why she wanted to be a lawyer; one joyful, the other more difficult.

One reason is that when she was younger, she was invited to her mother’s job at an attorney’s office for her birthday. An attorney who worked there went out and bought her a painted turtle at a local store, making her realize how attorneys were people that helped others.  

The other reason that pushed her was that she had a friend from high school who was murdered. Roubic remembers watching the hearings and trials.

“It really gave me some insight into why it’s important to have good judges, good defense attorneys and good prosecutors,” Roubic said. “Because everyone has a voice to be heard. So that left a lasting impression on me.”

At first she worked at Ernest and Young, an attorney’s office, for four years until she “hung up her shingle,” a lawyer’s term for starting your own practice. 

Working in Portage County, she decided to raise her family here. Her mother was her first assistant when she started her law firm, as her parents were her biggest supporters. 

Around 2004, Roubic began serving as an acting judge in Portage County Municipal Court for 15 years. 

“If you can walk someone through the process and help them be successful in completing whatever their sentencing requirements might be, then what I think is really, really important from a municipal court perspective is we’re all human. We make mistakes,” Roubic said.

In 2019 she was elected as a judge for the Portage County Municipal Court.

“I’m going to try my best not to, but mistakes are inevitable,” Roubic said. ”I’m just going to try to learn from those mistakes and to do the best job I possibly can as a municipal court judge. And I think for the most part, people are pretty good, even those people that get into some trouble.”

Stacy Yaniglos, President of Kent League of Women Voters. Photo: Ryanne Locker

“I think, especially in today’s atmosphere, we’re doing a really important thing in just, defending democracy. Somebody needs to go out and work on those things. We do it in a nonpartisan way. It’s a great opportunity to learn a lot about politics.”

Stacy Yaniglos is a retired optometrist and has lived in Kent for about 50 years. She is active in the League of Women Voters, other non-profits and her church.

One of the non-profits she works with is supporting girl’s education in Cambodia. 

With the Kent League, she is working to promote democracy, but always staying nonpartisan. A big issue the League does is help with voter registration and education. Vote411, a website the League funds to help educate voters on what will be on the ballot and information that will be voted on. 

Right now the League is working to pass a bill that will automatically register your voting information when you check in with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. 

The League works on a national, state and local level. Lobbying also plays a part in what the League does. Such as lobbying for the bills they support as in the one about gerrymandering and how our state organizes and picks our districts. 

Yaniglos joined the league about 30 years ago and was not involved in politics before that. 

“I actually joined because I thought the members were smart and they were interesting and yet they were fun,” she said. “Some of my best friends are league members.”

Becoming president has come with challenges on how to approach lobbying.

“When you talk about taking positions (in politics), you can have a spectrum of ideas and thoughts,” she said. “In order for us to lobby we have to come to a consensus. So sometimes it’s hard.”

A nice thing about the League is that you get to decide how much time you put into into it.

“We really emphasize that you can spend as much or as little time as you can or as you want to,” Yaniglos said. “I always want to do more than I had time for, especially when I was working.”

Iris Meltzer – president of the Ohio League of Women Voters. Photo: Ryanne Locker

“Part of being a human being is to care for and care about others and to change the circumstances” 

Iris Meltzer is a Kent State alumna, with her masters in public health. She also worked at the Akron Children’s Hospital as an Administrative Director from 1984 until she retired in 2011. 

Meltzer has always been involved in politics.

To be a good citizen, you have to take a role in the community and support the people whose voices are not heard, Meltzer, who grew up marching with her family, said.

Meltzer said she even spent her honeymoon watching the Watergate Hearings. 

After being a part of the Kent league for about a year, she was asked to serve on the board from 2012 to 2013. Then was elected as president of the Kent league. 

“In fact, kind of a standing joke with leagues around the country is ‘welcome to the league, would you like to be the president?’” Meltzer said.

She was president for two terms and then took on being secretary for the state league. In May of 2019, she became the president of the state league.  

“It’s interesting being involved in politics as a league member, particularly in a leadership role, because we are nonpartisan, are very political, but we never support a candidate for a party,” she said. “So it’s an interesting balancing act of being very, very involved in politics and never supporting a candidate or a party.”

As the president, she can’t publicly support a candidate or a party. She compares it to being on a tightrope. 

Meltzer points to a Jewish saying “Tikkun Olam” as a guide, as her father was raised jewish and that influenced her and her beliefs. The concept is defined as, “acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world. It is often used when discussing issues of social policy, insuring a safeguard to those who may be at a disadvantage,” from the Learning to Give website

She recommends anyone thinking of getting into politics to start with local city council meetings, watching what happens and going for non-elected positions. 

“Positions where you kind of get a sense of how government works,” Meltzer said. “There are the pieces and parts to government. Go to county council meetings, you know, now I would say watch the impeachment hearing. Not so much for the outcome but how do these people interact.”

Mackenzie Burchett, senior political science major and president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kent State. Photo: Ryanne Locker

“Women aren’t generally welcomed into politics a lot. I think we’re seeing that shift a little bit. But I think there’s still a lot of dissent for women who are in power politics that we see pretty often in the attacks, especially with the new freshman congresswomen being frequently attacked for being progressive women in politics.”

Mackenzie Burchett is a senior political science major and the president of the Kent State Planned Parenthood Advocates. She is from West Virginia and decided to go to Kent because she knew a friend who went here. 

Along with being involved with Planned Parenthood she is also involved in the Young Democractic Socialists of America. 

“We do different campaigns like fighting for $15 minimum wage on campus, electing Bernie for 2020,” Burchett said. “It’s a really great organization to talk about, like fun leftist politics and socialism and all kinds of worker’s rights things. I think it lines up really good with most of the people who are in Planned Parenthood are also in YDSA. We’ve kind of connected those two works really well, because most of my friends and reproductive rights and workers rights are pretty closely linked.”

Burchett started as a campus organizer for Planned Parenthood, then became vice president and is now president of the group. 

As president, she makes sure the group completes their goals and are strong leaders. In her organization she wants to work towards education, outreach and advocacy. 

Likewise, she has been working to create stronger bonds on campus with other groups and giving her organization a voice.

One of her best memories of working with Planned Parenthood is the rally they held in April. 

“When Planned Parenthood lost quite a bit of funding from the health department and Ohio, I think that rally was a very good memory because it showed how much power we have when we come together,” she said. “And we had to all paint the rock and rally around that. And it was just a lot of fun to be able to march through campus and announce that we are all students of Planned Parenthood and make that very vocal.”

In high school, she was involved in politics to the point where she created a petition against Sarah Palin.

“I didn’t really have a lot of opportunities to get super involved until college, (being) from a super small town in West Virginia,” she said. “I think (I’d say) to my younger self to not give up on her political views, and they never did, but I just felt like I needed to hear that when I was younger, because I was always the most left leftist person in the room.”

Terrie Nielsen, Director of the Portage County Board of Elections. Courtesy of Terrie Nielsen.

“I think it’s really important for people to use their skill set to better the world around them. And if that’s doing it at a local level, state level, national level, that’s what you should do.”

Terrie Nielsen is one of two directors at the Board of Elections. Nielsen is the director who supports the democratic party.

Nielsen practiced law for 15 years and retired in 2005. She then went on to work for Hiram College in their weekend college program to help adults get their masters. 

“It was a lot of fun,” she said. “I liked working with people. It’s always fun to see how they have a goal and when they reach their goal, even though it may not be easy. But they eventually get there.”

She applied to the Board of Elections after originally applying for the Treasurer of Portage County. She interviewed with the directors because they were looking for an attorney for the position. Nielsen says she serves at the pleasure of the board which is made up of two democrats and two republicans. 

Nielsen got involved in politics in her 50s, even though she grew up in a pro-union household. Being in a pro-union household she votes democractic. Even when she worked in law firm that was republican she voted democrat.

Nielsen favors more local politics than national politics as the change is more noticeable. 

“If you’re involved in local politics, you can make really substantial change in your local community, whether it’s at the county level or the township level,” she said. “I think it’s important that people who are critical thinkers, people who care about the community, are actually involved in the community because sometimes you run into a situation where the people who are elected are not doing it for the right reasons.”

If you are interested in the Kent League of  Women Voters: https://my.lwv.org/ohio/kent/about-league-women-voters-kent

Planned Parenthood Advocates: https://www.kent.edu/csi/planned-parenthood-advocates-kent-state

Editor: Maria McGinnis, [email protected]