Ilana Rubel has served as a representative to the Idaho House of Representatives for the last 10 years.
However, her call to politics began when she studied American government and English at Georgetown University and heard presidential candidate Bill Clinton give practice speeches. Rubel said this helped develop an interest in politics but in a more behind-the-scenes role.
“I just figured I’d be a person watching from the sidelines, maybe I would volunteer for a candidate here and there, donate money to a candidate, but I never dreamed of actually being the candidate,” Rubel said.
In 2013, a legislative seat opened up in Rubel’s district after the previous representative moved to Seattle. All any interested Democrat candidate had to do was submit one to two sentences about why they wanted to be in the legislature.
“I kind of immediately talked myself out of it,” Rubel said. “Nobody knows who I am. At the time I was working full-time. I really never been that involved in local politics, other than donating to the candidate. Particularly, like, nobody knows me. I haven’t been other permissions or anything like that. Surely somebody else would be more qualified than I am and I shouldn’t even apply.”
At that moment, Rubel was reminded of a book she had just finished: Sheryl Sandburg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. The book teaches that women will often unintentionally hold themselves back from opportunities because they feel inadequate and underqualified. Rubel said the lessons she learned from that book led her to the legislature.
Rubel currently serves as the Minority Leader for the Democratic party in the House. Out of the 70 representatives, only 11 are Democrats. Rubel said she feels she has to work twice as hard to get things done, but the successes she experiences are stronger.
Rubel considers the highlight of her time in the legislature to be restoring preventative dental care to Medicaid in 2018, which had been removed in 2011. Rubel said she made a special effort to knock on doors in the poorest part of her district, in the trailer parks, to make sure their voices were heard and were most likely to be affected by the lack of dental care.
“The number one thing I was hearing was that they were suffering incredibly from the state having taken away dental care,” Rubel said.” They were living on jello and applesauce. They would have pain all the time that was driving them to abuse opioids because of the pain and it was all because the dental care had been taken away.”
Remembering Women’s History Month
Congress declared March as Women’s History Month in 1987. Rubel recognizes how far women’s rights have come in the last fifty years and said it’s important to not take the rights women have for granted.
“It’s an ever-evolving thing, but we better know that history because if we take it for granted, we will lose it,” Rubel said. “It’s very important. I think that we are constantly aware of how hard people had to fight and that we need to always keep fighting because there’s a lot of people in the world who don’t want women to have full rights.”
One woman who’s inspired Rubel is her mother. She attended the University of Chicago in the 1940s at a time when many colleges were closed to women. Her mother was involved in the women’s rights movement throughout her life and was an early advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment.
“She was brilliant beyond belief,” Rubel said.
To learn more about Ilana Rubel, visit her website.