“There is a young woman out there who is smart, hard-working and motivated to run for public office. She doesn’t have a lot of money or connections to politics. She has no idea where to start. You need to tell her your story.” – A good friend
I’ve been hesitant to use this blog to tell my story because I’m intent on making this listening tour about the people I meet and the stories they let me share. However, I received an email this morning that convinced me to share how I got here. It was from an official in my party, encouraging me to quit and go home. “There isn’t anything wrong with canceling your tour early,” he assured me. It rolled off my back, but it reminded me how many women hear these words every day. “Don’t aim too high,” “don’t disrupt the status quo” and “you don’t know what’s best for you – I do” are refrains we hear continuously throughout our lives. A small percentage of us fight through it, but too many of us let those words sink in and drown out our own inner voices.
These 80 days (and I do intend to complete all 80 days) wouldn’t be possible without the dozens of people who generously shared their time, advice and experiences with me over the past few months. It’s my obligation – and privilege – to share how I got here in the hopes it will help someone else start down an unorthodox path to leadership in public service. So here is my path to politics…
It was nearing midnight on November 8, 2016 and all the election party guests had departed. I sat on the couch. My mind was spinning. What did this mean for women? For my friends with preexisting conditions? For the chances of ever fixing our broken policy systems? I remembered thinking I should probably go to bed soon, tomorrow was a work day. Then I remembered where I worked. The FBI. The U.S. Intelligence Community. What did this mean for the integrity of my position? How could I continue enforcing a system of broken laws, when there was no chance our legislature would ever come together to fix them? I turned to my boyfriend. “What are we going to do?” I asked through tears.
“You’re going to do what you’ve always said you would do someday. You’re going to run for Congress,” Jason said.
I’ve dreamt of policy work since I was eight years old. My Barbies hosted legislative hearings before a panel of Cabbage Patch dolls. I’d argue with my parents and then daydream Madeleine Albright was my real mom. I lived in small town. I didn’t know a single politician. We didn’t have C-SPAN or cable news. Washington D.C. was this mythical place where people did cool stuff like broker peace deals and create jobs. I didn’t see the messiness or the fighting, I just saw the chance to make a difference in people’s lives.
Congress was the last thing on my mind on election night though. Congress was a place you go when you’re older and politically-connected, with enough money to buy a small island. You don’t run for Congress when you still say a little prayer before logging into your bank account. You don’t walk away from a decade-long career that pays the mortgage. You don’t abandon employer-based health insurance. And with all those student loans? No way.
As the months wore on, I couldn’t get Jason’s words out of my head though. They came to me as I watched the President brag about the election results in front of a wall of stars commemorating my fallen fellow Intelligence Officers. And again, as I watched the House vote to take away health insurance for 22 million Americans. And again, as I as I watched a group of only men decide the future of women’s reproductive rights. And again, as I went to work and responded to requests for intelligence reports, tailored to support a travel ban that would create more terrorists than it would stop. You’re going to run for Congress. The words grew louder each day.
So I allowed myself to think about it. Google became my best friend. I searched “how to run for office,” “how to write a press release” and “how to tell your family you’re doing something they’ll find completely insane.” I found trainings, most free and online. I negotiated with my student loan provider. I signed up for MinnesotaCare. I had 10,000 coffees with anyone who would talk to me about their path to politics. I took a class on how to build a website. I chartered a route through my 28,000 square mile district that would take me to every county seat this summer. I replaced the worn-down tires on the bike. I ordered business cards to hand out to anyone who would talk to me.
Most importantly, I asked for help. I gathered my smartest policy-loving friends, most from the Humphrey School where I incurred those lovely student loans. We sat in my living room and talked about the changes we wanted to see in our government, in our policy and in our communities. I asked for their advice, their support and access to their networks. We looked up politicians, activists and community leaders to call. We wrote everything down on giant white sticky notes and plastered them all over the floor. Sitting in the same room where I’d cried on election night, we resolved to fight for our future.
So if you’re wondering if you have what you need to run for office someday, I’ll tell you what I have. I have supportive friends and family. I have enough savings to put food in my belly and gas in my tank for 80 days. I have a preexisting condition, but I also have access to affordable health insurance through the state of Minnesota. I have a notebook in my bag filled with stories of people I meet and the reasons I want to fight for them. I have ten years’ experience fighting entrenched federal bureaucracy and seeing what broken policy does to our communities. I have the desire to shake some politicians and tell them to go work in a detention center for undocumented immigrants, like I did for six years. Then maybe they’d want to come back to the table and negotiate comprehensive immigration reform. I have a willingness to listen and learn from people in my district, and start a discussion on how our gridlocked policy system has affected their lives.
I don’t have access to a secret donor network or the ear of Nancy Pelosi (are you reading this Nancy? Call me!). I don’t have a long family lineage of politicians. I don’t have years of campaign experience or widespread name recognition (it’s pronounced Fy-FER). According to my inbox this morning, I don’t even have the support of my district chair. So, in short, I don’t have anything special. If I can do this, you can do this. Furthermore, we need you to do this. Washington D.C. is only a mythical, far-off land if it’s populated with out-of-touch politicians who think they know better than the rest of us. Listen to those around you. Fill a notebook with the reasons you want to fight for them. Then go out and fight!
And please contact me – I’ll help you in every way I can.