State Senator Dawn Euer named one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year

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Dawn Euer is one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, a recognition of women across the country who have made a significant impact. The annual program is a continuation of Women of the Century, a 2020 project that commemorated the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Meet this year’s winners at womenoftheyear.usatoday.com.

Dawn Euer moved to Rhode Island to attend Roger Williams University Law School in 2006 and has left a mark on the state ever since.

First elected to the state Senate in 2017 to represent Newport and Jamestown, Euer, 42, is now chair of the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee. She has a number of legislative accomplishments to her name, capped off in May 2021 by the passage of the Climate Act she co-sponsored with State Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport.

When Governor Dan McKee signed the law into law in April 2021, he called it “landmark” legislation because it aims to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Under law, a 12-member state Executive Change Coordinating Council must develop a comprehensive plan to achieve various emissions targets, including a 45% reduction by 2030.

Due to his successful sponsorship of the legislation, Euer was one of three US state legislators chosen to represent the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

Euer was also the main sponsor of the Student Loan Bill of Rights in 2019, which now provides greater consumer protection for student borrowers.

She was a key sponsor of the Reproductive Privacy Protection Act of 2019, considered by many to be a landmark achievement that guarantees women access to safe and legal abortion under the Rhode Island state law, 46 years after Roe v. Wade guaranteed the fundamental right to abortion in America.

Euer is a practicing lawyer, but she considers herself part of the social enterprise sector and weaves that experience with the community work she does as a volunteer.

“Some people don’t know what social enterprise means, but it’s a way of doing business that’s not just about profitability,” she said. “There are parallels to that in the way I think government should be run.”

Euer answered a series of questions about his experiences, life, motivation and inspiration. The following conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Governor Dan McKee stands with Rep. Lauren Carson, left, and Senator Dawn Euer, the Newport Democrats who introduced the climate bill, during a ceremony Saturday at Bowen's Wharf.
Governor Dan McKee stands with Rep. Lauren Carson, left, and Senator Dawn Euer, the Newport Democrats who introduced the climate bill, during a ceremony Saturday at Bowen’s Wharf.
Sean Flynn/Newport Daily News
Who paved the way for you?

I was a Girl Scout as a kid and my mom (Rose Euer from Kenosha, Wisconsin) was our troop leader. She showed me all the values ​​of Girl Scouts – about community service, giving back and the environmentalism that we learned from camping and all that. She had a huge influence on me.

Who do you look up to?

Lawyer Sarah Weddington was a huge influence on me, starting with her story about law firms not hiring women in the 1970s. Wade and plead before the Supreme Court at the age of 27. She won one of the most important cases in American history. I had the honor of meeting her when I was in law school.

What is your proudest moment?

I think I have to give two. One was certainly the passage of the Reproductive Privacy Protection Act in 2019. I’m glad we’ve codified the protections afforded by Roe v. Wade at the state level, especially given recent Supreme Court rulings.

The other proud moment was the climate law because it was so fragile. There has certainly been a lot of pushback and opposition forces trying to stop us from passing it. Even the governor sent me a letter of concern and asked me not to forward it to my committee on the day it was scheduled to vote. To be able to get that through on the finish was a big moment.

What is your definition of courage?

I believe it is necessary when there is a challenge and a risk to an action you should take. It may not have been popular back then, but it was the right thing to do. That’s when you need courage.

Is there a guiding principle or mantra that you tell yourself?

As for my mantra: keep swimming. It might not be a mantra, but I also love the perseverance poster of people rolling a rock down a hill. It’s not just one person, but all the people who do the work. It’s ‘I’m not doing this alone.’ We just have to keep going, keep pushing.

How to overcome adversity?

I come from a working class background. Overcoming structural financial obstacles is a real challenge while doing all those things that I am passionate about. I have to worry about paying the rent. It’s a real struggle for some people in a part-time legislature to do and focus on what needs to be done when we all have bills to pay. I still have student loans to repay. But I also think that perspective is good because it’s something I share with the majority of Rhode Islanders. They are concerned with paying their rent, paying the mortgage, and keeping food on the table.

The pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, especially for women.  What helped you?

Being able to stay in touch with people is important. Some of my friends live far away and my family is far away. We got better at planning time together. The isolation imposed by COVID is a real problem, but with some people in my life, I’ve actually come closer. I reflected on the roller coaster of the pandemic. When it started, a group of us were sewing and coordinating masks. I met Sew Hope New England, a wonderful group that volunteers and helps people. Connecting with groups like this has been incredibly helpful.

Euer Dawn
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. It is in these moments of vulnerability that you will truly connect with other people and find kindred spirits.
What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. It is in these moments of vulnerability that you will truly connect with other people and find kindred spirits.

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