A quarter of a century spent advocating on behalf of the women of Wisconsin.
That’s what Brookfield woman Mary Jo Baas was honored for by Gov. Scott Walker this month.
Baas has spent 25 years serving on and leading the Wisconsin Women’s Council. She has twice served as the board chair, including her most recent tenure which started in 2011.
The women’s council, founded in 1983, is a state government agency charged with working to identify barriers that prevent women in Wisconsin from participating fully or equally in all aspects of life. It consists of 15 members appointed by the governor and legislative leaders.
“It’s been a long time, but it doesn’t feel like it," Baas said. "Every time we work on a new program or change the emphasis or the members change we have a whole new set of resources and a whole new set of women who can do great things. It’s always changing and it’s always different, so it doesn’t feel like it’s been so long.”
One major change Baas has seen take place in the women’s council during her time working in Madison is that bipartisanship has become more prevalent.
“It used to be very partisan. Whoever had the majority, they won the vote and so it was very important to be there every meeting because you had to help your team with the vote,” Baas said. “Now it’s more like everyone working on the same thing. Everyone is trying to do their best for women. Rather than duking it out and one side wins, we’ve been trying to help women in areas that help everybody’s needs.”
Baas first took a seat on the council in 1992 after being appointed by Gov. Tommy Thompson. She was later appointed chair for the first time by Gov. Scott McCallum.
“The chair serves at the pleasure of the governor," Baas said. "So Gov. Doyle chose not to appoint me, but when Scott Walker got elected I asked him to appoint me. He wanted to make sure that what’s being done in his name is what he thinks is appropriate.”
In 25 years, Baas has been a part of the council tackling a wide variety of topics, but she says one in particular stands out.
Financial literacy "huge"
“Ever since I first started, financial literacy has been huge to me because it impacts everyone," Baas said. "It’s not just a political debate. It’s something that can help everyone around the state. Financial literacy is important for everyone, but it can be particularly devastating for women if they are widows or single parents.
“If you have your finances in order then your kids can go to a great school, they can get the medical help they need, they can live where they want, if they have domestic problems they can take what actions they need. It frees you to do what you want to do. It’s not the end-all be-all, but it helps and it helps everyone.”
Baas said of late the women’s council has been moving toward trying to help women understand health care.
Walker, who defeated Baas in a 1993 State Assembly race, presented his chosen chair of the council with a certificate recognizing her service June 7.
“Mary Jo Baas has demonstrated leadership and success in furthering the council’s work on a wide variety of issues, particularly women’s financial literacy and education, advocating that when women better understand how to make, save, grow, and manage their own money, it empowers them to move from dependency to freedom in all aspects of their lives,” the certificate read.
Baas previously worked as a lobbyist and a legislative aid for former State Senator and Representative Peggy Rosenzweig. She has not run for office again since the 1993 election, but now enjoys a more modest schedule. Still, she keeps a foot in the political world via her political consulting firm Liberty House Consulting.
“My primary job is being at home with my three daughters,” Baas said. “But I do still do political consulting. I’ve done anything from surveying to analysis writing to campaign consulting.”