South Dakota women say now is the time to get into politics

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - It may only be February, but already many people running for office have announced their candidacy.

Across the county and across South Dakota, women have been urged to throw their hat into the political race.

As the movement has grown, so has the organization Lead South Dakota, a non-profit helping women to get into politics. Just through that organization alone, 30 women have decided to run in a state or municipal election.

"Now is the time to run" is what many female candidates are saying.

The 2016 Presidential Election sparked a movement for women, from the 2017 Women's March to speaking out against sexual assault, and now on the campaign trail.

"I think that 2018 is the year of women."

One way to find out how many women are getting involved in politics -- taking a look at this year's Women's March.

"I'm Jolene Loetscher, and I am running to be our next mayor of Sioux Falls."

"I'm running for the House of Representatives for District 10," Rachel Willson said.

I am running for the House of Representatives in District 14," Erin Healy said.

"I'm running for the House of Representatives for District 13, which I never in my wildest dreams would imagine that I would do," Kelly Sulivan said. "If you would have asked me a year ago on march day if I thought I would be doing that, the answer would have been a hard 'no.'"

Sulivan said that during the January 2017 Women's March she found her voice.

"It gave me this voice that I didn't, I didn't really realize that I had," she said. "I used to get nervous speaking in front of five people and I was standing on a van speaking in front of 3,300 people."

Sulivan is one of 13 women working with Lead South Dakota who is running for office for the first time.

Lead South Dakota is a political organization that started a little more than a year ago. In that time, its Facebook group has expanded to more than 2,500 members.

It all began on election night.

"I was really excited to have the first female president, and so when that didn't happen I was really discouraged and surprised," Susan Kroger, co-founder of Lead South Dakota, said.

Over the course of the past year, Lead South Dakota has held several events in the community, including one to learn about the Legislative process.

And what the group learned is that many people share their feelings about what happened on November 8, 2016.

"They were so shocked afterward, and wanted to insert themselves in the political process to make sure they weren't surprised next time," Kroger said.

And in 2017, a movement has continued to catapult women's rights center stage in politics and in news headlines with the "me too" movement, as allegations of sexual assault were made public in Hollywood and at State Houses across the country.

"I really, I have been thinking about this, and I realized that in 2017 we were saying, 'Yes we can. As women, yes we can. We can do this,' and I think that as the year has progressed, as you know things have come out, women have spoken up against sexual assault and sexual violence and women are standing up, and I think it's changed and moved to 'yes we are,'" Sulivan said.

Many women have wanted to see change.

"We can change this, we don't have to just sit by and let this kind of stuff happen," Rachel Wilson said.

And now, many are stepping up to be the change.

"Change doesn't happen when you just stand on the sidelines and wait for the time to be right," Loetscher said.

And for many South Dakotans, that change starts in Pierre. There are 105 legislators -- only 21 of them women.

"It's important to to promote women into leadership because women tend to care about women," Kroger said.

"We need diversity in our Legislature, we need women to be represented in our legislature and they are not right now," Sulivan said.

There is a surge of support for women to run.

"The more women that we have run, the more women that will win," Loetscher said.

"I'm so excited to be standing up and engaging and using my voice for the first time really in my life," Sulivan said.

Candidates hope this momentum from the march continues to echo across the state so these candidates can take their voices from the streets of Sioux Falls to seats at the South Dakota Capitol.

It is not clear how many women plan to run for state office because the deadline to file a petition is not until May.

So far, Loetscher is the only women running for Sioux Falls mayor. If she wins, she will be the first women to hold that position.