2012 Women of Influence Winner: Christie Vilsack
Wednesday, August 01, 2012 2:31 PM
Democratic congressional candidate, Iowa
This may be the first time Christie Vilsack is running for political office, but it certainly isn’t her first time hitting the campaign trail.
Vilsack, 62, has helped others run for office for years. Involved in politics since the age of 10, she eventually moved from working on high school campaigns to larger-scale ones, including her husband’s two gubernatorial campaigns and Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
“I’ve been thinking about running for a while, but it’s difficult to have two people in the same family run for office,” she said, adding that she sees herself as a problem solver – something she believes the government needs more of.
But now it’s finally her turn. And if she gets elected, she will accomplish something no woman in the state of Iowa has been able to do: serve in Congress. Iowa, along with Mississippi, has never elected a female to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate or as governor.
“Being a woman is just one more lens,” Vilsack said. “You need many lenses to do a job well. I’m not just running as a woman, but as an educator, and a small-town person. I also think my age brings something to the table. I’m long past believing everything has a yes-or-no answer. I see myself as a collaborator.”
An educator by trade, Vilsack spent 38 years as a librarian and teacher. She said she believes education is a keystone to democracy and important for Iowa’s future. While first lady, Vilsack focused on literacy and education issues and even founded a nonprofit to help further her cause.
She also began the Iowa Initiative, a private foundation focused on reducing the rate of unintended pregnancies among young women.
“That was a serious issue that we had to talk about,” she said.
As a foreign exchange student in Santiago, Chile, when she was 16 years old, Vilsack picked up a taste for travel and has now visited locations around the globe, with New Zealand and Israel being among her favorite destinations.
“I’ve traveled all over the world to represent economic interests and have learned the importance of trade to our farmers,” she said. “I’ve also learned the importance of a global economy.”
During the eight years she served by her husband’s side as first lady, Vilsack learned how important it is to represent all Iowans, not just those “of your party or who voted for you,” and she credits her small-town roots for preparing her to spend so many years in the limelight and under scrutiny.
“(In small towns,) someone always knows your business,” she said, pointing out that even a trip to the grocery store can result in gossip. “You don’t really have any sense of privacy.”
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