by Jessie Veeder
Representative Vicky Steiner wants to encourage North Dakota women to be leaders. If there’s one thing this professional woman, wife of thirty-two years and mother of four wants to say it’s this.
“I look at photos of ground breaking ceremonies in state magazines and I might see one or two women pictured,” says Steiner. “Women can become invisible sometimes, but we have a perspective, we have concerns and we should be represented.”
Steiner, who has served as the Executive Director of the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties (NDAOGPC) in Dickinson since 1986, is hardly invisible. Currently in her fourth year of serving on the House of Representatives, Steiner has an infectious confidence, the kind that comes from years of experience and belief in herself as a capable woman.
“Being in the minority doesn’t discourage me,” said the self-described “Odd-Duck,” who admits she’s never felt like she’s needed permission to do the work she does in North Dakota.
With a degree in communications, a minor in marketing from Moorhead State University and a background in marketing and television news, Vicky’s education and professional experience has been an invaluable resource for her work in the legislature.
“I’ve always been interested in the art of persuasion,” says Steiner, who is still sometimes recognized in Dickinson for her work as the KDIX News Director and anchor twenty-some years after leaving her position.
If you ask her, Steiner will tell you stories about what it was like to get her foot in the door of a man’s world in the 1970s. She’ll tell you that men were the gatekeepers then and she’ll tell you that’s where she learned that if you bump up against the door long enough, eventually it will open a bit.
And so she tucks that lesson in her back pocket as she represents Western North Dakota’s interest in the midst of unprecedented oil development.
Because Steiner’s role in the energy industry out west extends beyond her work in the legislature.
As the Executive Director of the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties (NDAOGPC) Steiner works for a 19-county member organization with representation stretching from Bowman to Bottineau and from Oliver to Divide counties
The organization’s mission, which also represents the North Dakota Coal Conversion Counties, is to be the trusted and unified voice for the betterment of the citizens of North Dakota and the NDAOGPC membership.
“Every decision the board makes on a project or an issue is evaluated by asking: ‘Is it improving our quality of life or challenging our citizens?’” said Steiner.
Since Steiner stepped into her role as Executive Director twenty-seven years ago, North Dakota’s oil industry has gone through a dramatic transformation. According to Steiner, during her first years in the position the price of oil had dropped dramatically and the rig count was down to zero to one.
“It was the opposite of prosperity,” said Steiner, who spent the next few years fighting to keep the $2 million oil impact fund money in place for the communities that had been impacted by the bust of the early 1980s.
Today the fund, which is generated from the 1% of the state’s share of the Oil Gross Production tax, tallies at least $100,000 million a biennium.
Last session, to Steiner’s disappointment, the gross production tax formula was dramatically changed, leaving Western North Dakota and the 19 counties she works for without enough funding to help them properly manage unprecedented growth.
“We have a lot of problems that need to get fixed in the next session,” said Steiner, who says that if she’s re-elected for the 2015 session she will make it her mission to resolve the fund formula for the west.
More than a job
In addition to work in the legislature and with the NDAOGPC, Steiner also serves as a consortium member for Vision West ND, a Bakken Region planning initiative designed to address immediate and long-term needs of oil impacted communities by encouraging entrepreneurial development, economic diversification and supporting livability and environmental objectives in Western North Dakota.
Vision West engages leaders in the 19 impacted counties and brings them to the table to express concerns, share their vision and create a plan for the region’s future.
“Vision West has allowed people to engage in how they want to see their community grow,” said Steiner. “It gives them a chance to come together to express the greatness and the challenges we’re experiencing in the Bakken and it gives state leaders some comfort knowing these plans have been vetted because they started at the grassroots level.”
And Steiner has seen the impact that individual voices can have on creating community change, siting how Watford City’s concern and conversation about the increase of litter and trash in their town spurred the oil industry to take action to clean up the patch.
“We use the word ‘boom’ out here but that word indicates there’s going to be a bust,” said Steiner who believes that the activity will level out, but the impacted communities and the state needs to be thinking about how to best handle long term growth and development.
“When we get this oil extracted my hope is that we still have an extraordinary place that people want to visit,” said Steiner. “We need to put some thought into how we can keep Western North Dakota as beautiful as it’s always been.”
That vision for Western North Dakota is on Steiner’s radar every day. And although this daughter of a military man wasn’t able to claim one town as her hometown, the pride she has found in planting roots, growing her career and raising her family in Dickinson is evident in the work she does and the passion she has for the landscape.
When women ask her where she gets her confidence, she can’t quite find the answer, saying perhaps it was born into her, or maybe it was learned from a childhood spent working to fit into different schools and communities.
When asked where she get’s her inspiration, she doesn’t hesitate.
“My mom was my role model. She worked as a secretary so I could go to college. Her entire salary went to my education,” Steiner laments.
As the oldest child, Steiner was the first in her family to graduate from college. Her mother did the same thing for her two siblings.
A plan for a changing community
As Steiner looks to the future of her changing community, as she bumps up against the door for change, she sees work that needs to be done for Western North Dakota, a place with a future she envisions as “vibrant, prosperous and safe.”
And she sees a spot for women in that picture in the magazine.
If there is a woman who might encourage and inspire you to take on a mission, it’s Vicky Steiner. Her argument is convincing.
“From what I’ve seen, women are good at compromising, trying to get polarized sides less polarized,” says Steiner. “We have a way of building teams that helps with the process.”
And if you don’t possess that born-in confidence, Steiner will be your cheerleader.
“I encourage women to not be intimidated by the fact that nobody has asked them (to take a leadership position), “ said Steiner. “If you find you can make a difference and you have something to offer you should gather your friends and supporters around you and go for it.”
Jessie Veeder is a singer, writer and photographer who lives and works on her family’s cattle ranch in Western ND with her husband, Chad.