Harrison County

Women on Harrison County board to make history with female majority

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALDAlthough Mississippi was the last state to ratify the 19th Amendment, Beverly Martin, Connie Rocko and Angel Kibler-Middleton will be sworn in to serve on the Harrison County Board of Supervisors in 2016. It will be the first majority-female board of supervisors in Mississippi and one of the few in the country.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALDAlthough Mississippi was the last state to ratify the 19th Amendment, Beverly Martin, Connie Rocko and Angel Kibler-Middleton will be sworn in to serve on the Harrison County Board of Supervisors in 2016. It will be the first majority-female board of supervisors in Mississippi and one of the few in the country. SUN HERALD

Mississippi was the last state in the U.S. to ratify the 19th amendment.

That was in 1984, 64 years after women won the right to vote in the U.S. and 106 years after the measure was first introduced in Congress.

Just 32 years later, Harrison County is set to make history on the opposite end of that spectrum.

When the new board of supervisors is sworn in on Jan. 4, it will include three women.

It will be the first majority-female board in the state -- and one of the few in the United States.

"I think the fact we have three women on the board speaks volumes for the state of Mississippi and how far we've come, and Harrison County being a leader in that arena," said Supervisor Connie Rockco.

Rockco has been on the board since 1999, representing District 5. She will be joined by Beverly Martin, who was elected in District 1 and Angel Kibler-Middleton in District 2.

The three women were elected in three different districts by three distinct sets of voters and all three attributed their wins to their backgrounds, experience and policy platforms -- not their gender.

Still, they agreed the shift on the board was exciting.

Thirteen of Mississippi's 82 counties -- including Hancock and Harrison -- currently have women on their boards of supervisors. No county has more than one, according to the Mississippi Association of Supervisors.

The board's make-up is equally uncommon nationwide.

Mary Ann Borgeson, the chair of the Women of NACo -- National Association of County Governments -- said the number of women on county boards has risen and fallen several times over the years, though NACo doesn't specifically track gender make-up of boards.

Borgeson, who is also a commissioner in Douglas County, Neb., which includes Omaha, said the seven member commission has had as many as four female members in the past. She is currently the only female commissioner.

"They're not prevalent," she said of female-majority boards. "It's very encouraging to hear another one is coming on board. It's been like a roller coaster for women in government. We've seen years where many women enter, then years where it falls off."

The three women will not be the first to serve on the Harrison County board. Eula Switzer was appointed in 1986 to fill the remainder of her deceased husband's term. Robin Midcalf served several years on the board before she was elected as a judge in 1999.

But there has never been more than one at a time.

And all three elected to the board said it wasn't something they saw coming.

"I felt the possibility was there, but the probability of seeing this in my lifetime was slim," Martin said. "You have to realize, I graduated from high school in 1977, which was before Mississippi ratified the 19th amendment. I think it's historic -- that's the word that comes to mind."

Rockco remembered studying women's suffrage in high school and idolizing the state's first female lieutenant governor, but never considering getting into politics herself.

All three also said they appreciated the chance to represent a forward-looking moment in Mississippi.

"It's exciting," Kibler-Middleton said. "Maybe this can put Mississippi in a new light nationally. It can put us on a list of something progressive."

Each of the women ran on a different platform for her district.

Rockco was unopposed in her race but brought 16 years of experience and the boast of being the first female president of the board.

Kibler-Middleton talked during the campaign about her business acumen and experience as a registered nurse, owner of an auto dealership and horse trader. She said she's already started meeting with department heads and diving into the specifics of governing the county.

Martin, who has served on and led several tourism-related boards and commissions, focused on improving tourism and economic development in Harrison County.

And in addition to everything they hope to accomplish on the board, all three hoped their mere presence would serve as encouragement to other women.

Kibler-Middleton has a 5-year-old daughter who helped with her campaign. Rockco has three daughters -- one is an electrical engineer, another was the first in her high school to play on a co-ed soccer team and the third owns a business -- and five granddaughters.

"I hope that if Harrison County hasn't broken through the glass ceiling, that we at least put some cracks in it," Rockco said.

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