Mary Lou Reed

Choosing Our Future

Recorded: January 30, 2013

Why shouldn't we have a future with as much to offer as the present? A six term Idaho State Senator, Mary Lou Reed talks about being a female representative in the the mostly male senate chambers in 1984. She discusses the 1975 Land Use Planning Act that she fought for with the Idaho Conservation League, and the many issues that are close to her heart such as community, land and water conservation, diversity in Idaho, and human and women's rights.

Six term Democratic Idaho State Senator Mary Lou Reed, a longtime Coeur d’Alene resident, remains a steadfast watchdog over the Idaho Panhandle National Forest and other federal lands. One of the first women to serve in the Idaho legislature, Ms. Reed authored the Clean Lakes Act and Civil Remedies for Malicious Harassment Act. In the “red” state of Idaho, Ms. Reed is an outspoken Democrat and frequently contributes to the Pacific Northwest Inlander, with articles on civil rights, education, and politics.

In 1972, she co-founded the Kootenai Environmental Alliance (KEA), the oldest nonprofit conservation organization in Idaho whose mission is “to conserve, protect, and restore the environment,” particularly the Idaho Panhandle and the Coeur d’Alene basin. Mary Lou Reed also founded the Idaho Conservation League, was Board Chair of the Northern Rockies Action Group and has served on the National Board of NARAL (Pro-Choice America). Among her current affiliations are the Human Rights Institute, Gonzaga Institute for Action Against Hate and the Idaho Nonprofit Center policy advisory committee.

Mary Lou Reed:    I loved running for office, that was fun.  I like going door to door.  I liked being – meeting people at their own place and where they were comfortable talking.  It’s a really wonderful way to learn, to meet people and to understand about your community, you know–the unhappy woman whose still in a bathrobe in the afternoon, answering the door looking like she’s been crying.  You know there are people in every community that are lonely and are in difficult positions, and it’s very eye opening and it’s very rewarding because there are things that you can do to help. 

Mary Lou Reed:    I was successful in my race for the Idaho Senate in 1984.  There were some of the men who had been in the senate for a long time who didn’t believe that a woman really should be in the senate, that their place was in the home having babies and, you know, barefoot and pregnant, and all that.  Another woman and I who were elected at the time brought with us our–at that time, computers were absolutely brand new, and we brought our little Radio Shack computers and started putting them on the desks and wiring them, and plugging them in, and the place panicked.  The Republican men caucused to talk about the fact that the women were there and that they were wearing pants and that they were plugging in wires all over.   It was just not within the dignity of the senate.

Mary Lou Reed:    At that time, the Idaho Conservation League was able to get through–with the help of Governor Andrus–a planning act, the 1975 Land Use Planning Act, which was the first major piece of environmental legislation and it was the major piece that the Idaho Conservation League was involved with.  We feel very proud of that and this is that many years later. I think probably every community in Idaho finally has agreed to have a plan because figuring out that it is important to choose your future rather than have your future choose you.

Mary Lou Reed:   I really care a lot about the trees, the woods, the clean air and I love the lake passionately.  We have so many lakes here.  That was probably the one area that in the legislature that I got the most interested in. I finally ended up with a slot on the Resources Committee and introduced a bill that was aimed at providing resources and help to the small lakes.  I was concerned about the fact that these smaller lakes are – were being used and they were, their water quality was rapidly deteriorating.  Just as it’s important to have a plan for a city, its important to have a plan for a lake or a water body, to say “let’s make sure that the future has much to offer as the present.”   You know, it makes such good sense to me. I have a hard time explaining why when it’s hard to imagine wanting to let things run down anymore than you’d want to let your house to run down or your yard to run down.  It’s just the public lands have to be protected too and the public resources.

Mary Lou Reed:   I’ve been active in the Human Rights effort here since my years in the senate when I was really unelected because I no longer really represented the feelings of the community, which had gone very, very conservative.  Our community has rejected the racism and the ugliness of the Aryan Nations but there have been a lot of sympathizers who have come here to live. So there is always that element of white flight that we have to deal with and it rears its ugly head from time to time.  It makes it very hard for people who are of color to feel comfortable in moving here.  But fortunately, it’s becoming a little better every day and there are lots of good people working to make sure that diversity and tolerance are issues that are widely taught and widely understood.

Mary Lou Reed:   I think somewhere along the way I developed a thick enough skin to be able to laugh off people who are critical and disagreed, and just sort of go my merry way.  You can say anything to me, it’s impossible to hurt my feelings.