Opening Statements

10 Questions: LA lawyer and former congresswoman blazed a trail for women and minorities

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It’s become much more common to see women running against women and races that involve women of color. How do you feel when you see this representation?

We are in a position where we have many, many experienced and effective women—white, African-American, Latino—and they are prepared to run, they know how to put together a campaign, and they know how to put money together. Back when we were attempting to get into public office, we were very saddened that we had to be the only ones around. When I was in the state legislature, there were only three of us, and when I was in the House, there were only 19 out of 435. But it’s a new day, and the dynamics are different. You’re going to see more women emerge—this is what we fought for.

Let’s talk about your time in the House, when you had your daughter. You were not only the first to have to navigate those waters, but you were also new to Congress. How did you handle that?

I didn’t announce [my pregnancy] right away because I really had no idea what the reaction would be. Also, I didn’t know if I’d be sick or well. I waited as long as possible, but when it did became apparent the reaction was overwhelmingly positive—from men, women, everyone. I only got one letter from a constituent saying, “We didn’t send you there to have children,” but I had incredible support. The motion to give me maternity leave was made by a conservative Republican! My daughter was born Nov. 23, so I had the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, but I wasn’t gone very long. There was an important bill in the subcommittee I was on, so I came back once the session started in January.

You balanced the commute between LA and Washington, D.C., until your daughter was 4 years old and then became a law partner in a major international law firm. I can’t even imagine how challenging that was to balance.

Let’s face it, it’s not really easy in any job you have. But it’s particularly difficult if you have to leave home and go to another city. We hear about congressmen living in their office, but that’s not an alternative for women with children. Who wants to leave their children for a week or two weeks at a time? Working out all these things are sometimes difficult, but they are with whatever job you have.

Isn’t it easier if you have a grandmother willing to baby-sit?

Yes! I do take care of my granddaughter if my daughter has to go away for work or if the nanny isn’t available on the weekends. Let me tell you, my house is full of toys—and in my office, I have a crib that matches my desk.

You’ll be 86 this year. You’ve got an arbitration practice, you serve on the California Transportation Commission and several corporate boards, including Amtrak, which requires you to travel back and forth to Washington, D.C., every month. Do you ever think about retiring?

I certainly have no plans to retire right now, and I was just reappointed to the transportation commission for four years. I was thinking I might not do that, but another board member who is 92 just signed on for another four years; and this man still runs a company, so I was not going to not serve. I’ll continue until I feel like I am no longer mentally or physically competent

I guess when you’re used to being busy, you don’t notice it—I mean, you’ve been keeping up this pace for like …

All my life!

This article was published in the April 2018 issue of the ABA Journal with the title "A Birth and Many Firsts: LA lawyer and former congresswoman blazed a trail for women and minorities."

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