LEWISTON — Don’t tell U.S. House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ family, but she’s shopping for handmade Quoddy Inc. shoes for a Christmas present after visiting the Lisbon Street factory Friday.

With a lead time of up to six weeks to get each custom-made pair finished, she said she has to get going with her order.

Rodgers toured the factory with U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who is seeking a second term on Nov. 8. They also heard from a number of women business owners in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, including the co-founder of Quoddy.

Kirsten Shorey, who started the 32-employee firm almost two decades ago with her husband, said Poliquin “has always been attentive” to her concerns and popped over for visits on a few occasions.

Rodgers said two-thirds of all the businesses starting up in the United States these days are in women’s hands. Most of them are sole proprietors, she said, who are seeking the flexibility that running their own operation allows.

Poliquin, who faces a tough challenge from Democrat Emily Cain, said there are 44,000 women-owned businesses in Maine, employing 48,000 people. But, he said, the state is second-to-last in the country in the rate of new business formation by women.

Shorey said she got into the shoe business when she wanted to sell handmade shoes but couldn’t find anyone to make them.

“So we jumped in with both feet,” she said.

Rodgers, one of the highest-ranking women politicians in the nation, said the Quoddy story is inspiring.

“It’s great to hear you taking an idea and turning it into a reality,” she said.

She said the federal government could do more to help if it would revise labor and tax laws written for a different time. They’re making it “harder and harder” for people trying to make it in today’s complicated business environment, Rodgers said.

“Government should help people become independent,” Poliquin said. “We want to help people. That’s what government is for.”

“A job is much more than a paycheck,” Rodgers said. “It’s what gives you purpose and dignity.”

She also encouraged women to seek elected office.

Pointing out that she was only the 200th woman to serve in a Congress that has had more than 11,000 members over the years, Rodgers said women’s voices “need to be heard” in greater numbers.

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