By Amy Rose, Emerge California Class of 2013
This weekend, as part of our second Emerge California training session (on “planning your campaign”), my Emerge sisters and I explored a lengthy list of questions to ask ourselves before running for office: Questions about the skeletons that may lurk in our closets. Many of these common sense queries came as no surprise to a room full of savvy, sophisticated, and accomplished women considering elected office. Did we have criminal or arrest records to explain? Had we failed to file taxes or, worse, engaged in tax evasion? Had we been fired from employment for cause?
But then the list took a twist from the obvious, to the more personal and intrusive. Did we have shady figures in our friend or family networks? Speeding tickets? Jobs, such as “representing insurance companies” or working for companies that did not use union workers, that would outrage the party base? Questionable photos on Facebook? Nasty divorces and/or angry exes? How disheartening to consider that I — and another of my Emerge sisters — may face significant criticism (and possibly be unelectable) in parts of California simply because we had worked for or represented insurance companies. (Never mind that my cases have most often involved unscrupulous insureds seeking to defraud their insurers!) How frightening for one of my Emerge sisters, who is adopted, to worry about the potential that her candidacy could raise ghosts of a family she has never known. What about the potential candidate that had worked for a sex toy company? Or the candidate that has pulled herself up by her proverbial bootstraps, but has extensive family and friends with criminal records, addictions, and spotty work histories?
As the afternoon wrapped up and my Emerge sisters and I headed to the evening’s reception, the mood had noticeably soured. My sisters, like myself, were questioning whether their personal and work histories were austere enough to withstand the scrutiny of a ruthless opponent and a scandal-happy press. The questions were hard-hitting. After all, hadn’t we all seen how the political pundits and “independent” PACs and Super-Pacs could demonize almost anyone and concoct scandal out of thin air?
Emerge’s job is to bring these questions to our attention — to make us carefully examine our backgrounds for the possible “chinks” in our armor and evaluate our ability to to temper the storms that will inevitably follow such intense public scrutiny. We must be prepared for the consequences of seeking office, and it is Emerge’s job to ensure that we are. The moral of the story is not to give up, not to disparage ourselves for our personal histories or use the list of questions as another reason to let the critic in our heads tell us we are not “good” enough for elected office. The point is simply to be prepared, to get out in front of the story, to decide (before the reporter has you on the phone) how you will respond to the criticism and attacks that will certainly come. Because if we own our histories (including our flaws) and present our authentic selves to the electorate, they will see that we are “good” and good enough, not despite the “chinks” in our armor, but because of them. They are what makes us human.