Smart and good looking

Smart and good looking
At the risk of sounding sexist, I've always thought Stephanie Herseth will probably be known as one of the most attractive politicians South Dakota has ever sent to Washington.

Please, don't get me wrong. I think she's incredibly intelligent, too.

But I wasn't prepared for her visit to Vermillion Friday.


I haven't seen her for several months. I happened to arrive at the USD Alumni Center, where she was scheduled to speak, a few minutes early.

Eventually this young gal entered the room, and turned away from me to talk to another person. I figured it was a college kid, working as an intern in Rep. Herseth's office.

Then she turned and faced me.

"Hi Dave," she said.

By this time, she must have thought I was an idiot. The blank look on my face at the time can be attributed to my brain searching my memory banks, trying to recall if I had ever seen this person. How did she know my name? Oh, right. I was wearing a name tag.

Then the scanning mechanism came upon a positive hit among the archives in my mind.

In the matter of about one second, I silently expressed the following internal monologue to myself.

"No, she isn't."

"Well, she could be."

"Hey, it is her."

Standing before me was Stephanie Herseth. But I've never seen THIS Stephanie Herseth before.

I was expecting Laura Petrie from the Dick Van Dyke Show to come walking into the room.

As you can see by the before and after pictures above, there's really no one to whom she can be compared any longer.

It's not surprising that for some time now, Herseth has been attracting positive attention on Capitol Hill.

Back in 2004, the Web site Politics1.com asked people to complete a survey and pick the most attractive woman in U.S. politics.

Herseth easily won. Of the 1,366 respondents, she received just under 44 percent of the vote.

The fact that she garners such attention raises a more serious issue, however. It's probably fair to say that in Congress, there is a double standard when it comes to dress and appearance. Male senators and House members are evaluated for what they say, but sadly women are often judged primarily by how they look.

I spent a summer working in Washington. I saw male members of Congress who often wore ill-fitting suits and looked like they combed their hair with a fork. If women in Congress appear in public without a suit or looking as though they just left the salon, it ends up in the newspapers.

Young women in Congress or women considering public office must make the tough decision between their career and their families.

When reaching the decision to run for office, younger women must carefully weigh their options and decide whether to serve the public before or after starting a family.

Many women currently holding office are doing so after getting married and raising children, or spending many years in a different career.

These women bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table, but the women who chose to build families before running for office have made their path to leadership more difficult.

Not all South Dakotans may agree with Herseth. But she's been involved with state politics long enough to demonstrate her intelligence and passion for issues important to all of us.

We're lucky that she's not just another pretty face.

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