Routt County commissioner heads to NYC to attend national women’s conference
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton is braving a New York City winter this week to attend a conference hosted by the Young Elected Officials Network.
She joins roughly 100 elected women from across the country, including several state representatives, for the network’s first Women’s Conference.
The goal of the four-day conference is to help young, female officeholders build connections with other elected officials and to address the challenges of being a woman in politics. Events include workshops, trainings and discussions on a variety of issues, from progressing past the #MeToo movement to creating safer schools.
“Our vision is to bring progressive, elected women from all over the nation from different backgrounds together to dissect the current state of women in America and how to move forward and build power in our current political climate,” Raquel Jones, program manager for the Young Elected Officials Network, said in a news release.
Colorado’s female legislators made national history after the 2018 election gave women a 45 percent representation in the Colorado General Assembly, which is the highest percentage of women in any legislature in the country.
At 34, Melton, a Democrat, is the youngest of the three county commissioners, as well as the only woman on the board. She beat out incumbent Republican candidate Cari Hermacinski in the 2018 election.
Even before taking office, Melton understood that female officials are treated differently than men.
“It’s just a reality,” she said.
Melton is also the mother of a young child. She said during her campaign to become commissioner, she often received the question, “How are you going to have time for that?”
“No one asked my male counterparts that same question,” she said.
Melton has seen other challenges that women face as elected officials. She said that women tend to face greater scrutiny over their ability to lead.
“You have to prove yourself more,” she said.
That bumps up against a contradictory expectation of women to talk and act a certain way, of making sure that they are “nice enough,” as Melton put it.
That is something she plans to address while at the conference. She will attend a training conducted by actress and director Kathleen Turner that teaches women how to find their authentic voice. It aims to help female leaders establish a powerful presence in a political environment that tends to be dominated by men.
Melton also plans to build connections with a variety of elected officials from across the country from state representatives to school board members.
“I inherently see the value of networks for learning and growth,” she said.
Melton also is a member of Colorado Counties, Inc., a nonprofit association comprised of county commissioners from around the state. While that group has shown her how other counties respond to similar issues that challenge Routt County, getting input from officials outside of Colorado can offer a broader perspective on local initiatives.
“It gives you some unique opportunities to problem solve,” she said.
Melton particularly looks forward to the last workshop of the conference. It deals with supporting working mothers, children and families through child care.
During her campaign, Melton discussed the need for more child-care facilities and programs in Routt County. She now co-chairs First Impressions Early Childhood Council, a nonprofit that provides resources and education to families that promote healthy child development.
She hopes to return from the Women’s Conference with new ideas to help expand local child-care services, especially for infants and toddlers.
This will be the first time that Melton travels to New York. She is packing for the city’s icy, occasionally brutal winters while trying to look professional.
“I have had to borrow some clothes from friends,” she said.
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Katie Lee graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Wyoming in communications last spring, but as summer started, she hadn’t yet found a job.