SPRINGFIELD — At a time when the number of women in the Illinois Legislature has dropped, Terri Bryant's election to the Illinois House stands out.

Bryant, a Republican from Murphysboro, is the first female to represent a district in Southern Illinois.

“I don’t think there’s much doubt about that,” John Jackson of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIU said about Bryant being the area’s first female lawmaker.

Jackson, a longtime political scientist at SIU, said other women have run for the position in the area, but Bryant is the first to hold the office.

“This is a very traditional and socially conservative district and there has been a certain bias in favor of male candidates in the rural U.S. and internationally,” Jackson said.

He said it has been very hard for women to get elected because of the bias. He believes Bryant was elected because of, “The Republican red wave that overran everything in sight.”

In the November 2014 election, Republicans gained the majority in U.S. Congress.

Jackson said the use of attack adds by Bryant's opponent, Bill Kilquist, also may have had an effect.

“They overdid the attack on her," Jackson said.

Though Republicans are in control of Congress, Democrats are still in control of Illinois’ General Assembly. Jackson said Democrats tend to have more female candidates than Republicans do, which makes the decrease from 61 women to 54 women in the 118-member House seem odd.

Bryant, who replaced U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, is aware she is the first woman to have the position in the region, but it was never something she wanted to use in her campaign. She wants to represent everyone.

“On a personal level, it’s very exciting. To be the first of anything, it’s a milestone. I’m holding that close to my heart,” Bryant said.

Not everyone realized Bryant is the first female representative in the area.

“You know, I never thought about that,” said state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville. “She’s someone who has certainly prepared herself for a position like this for a long time. I’ve known her for, oh, 15 years. She is certainly very much involved in finding out about state government. She’s not completely new to all this."

Luechtefeld said Bryant has worked with programs like the Illinois Lincoln Excellence in Public Service Series, which helps prepare women to get involved in political positions.

Bryant said she got some very good advice: “Don’t always stick to things that are traditionally in the box for where you are in life.”

She calls herself a nontraditional woman because of her background in corrections, hunting, fishing, and her interest in issues not stereotypically associated with women, such as coal mining and trucking.

Because of those interests, Bryant can relate to and represent a wide variety of people in her district.

“I think the times are ready for a woman to hold this seat,” Bryant said.

jordan.maddox@lee.net / 217-557-9650

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