Wisconsin women reflect on Pelosi's historic political career and influence on the next generation

NOW: Wisconsin women reflect on Pelosi’s historic political career and influence on the next generation

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MADISON Wis. (CBS 58) -- The most powerful woman in American politics is passing the torch after serving nearly 20 years as the House Democratic leader.

Nancy Pelosi entered Congress in 1987 when men chaired all the House committees, but since then there's been tremendous progress.

"Never would I have thought that someday I would go from homemaker to House speaker," Pelosi said during her announcement she will not run for a leadership post Thursday.

It was the end of an era, but Pelosi's legacy as the first and only woman to serve as House speaker is giving the next generation hope.

"Nancy Pelosi makes it much easier for women like me to get a foothold in this industry and get into the rooms where decisions are being made," said 33-year-old Cary Wilson, a Democratic strategist in Wisconsin.

Wilson said she's been encouraged to see the strides women have not only made in Congress, but in the Wisconsin state Legislature.

In 2021, 41 women were sworn into office - the largest class of women legislators in state history, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau. Previously, the largest number of women to serve in a session was 37, a number reached in the 1989 and 2003 sessions.

Next year, 57% of the incoming Democratic caucus will consist of women, according to Wilson.

"It's great to see these new leaders coming up and to someday be a part of that," Wilson said.

Building the next generation of female leaders is a priority of former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. She recently returned to her role as president of the 1848 Project, an organization Kleefisch founded that works to elect conservative leaders on the local level, after she was defeated by Republican Tim Michels in the primary election.

Kleefisch said its unfortunate barriers still exist for females, but she's optimistic that will change with more women getting involved.

"Women have made tremendous progress in Wisconsin and country-wide, but take it from me, glass ceilings remain," she said.

"I'm going to continue to fight for my two daughters to make sure women's voices are truly represented and that's one of the things I can do as president of the 1848 Project -- recruit by training more credible fighters who will take back control of their local government."

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