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«Jane Swift: Motherhood in the Massachusetts Governor’s Office On Career Day at Foxhill Elementary School, students listened attentively to a ...»

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Center on Women and Public Policy Case Study Program

Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

Jane Swift: Motherhood in the Massachusetts Governor’s Office

On Career Day at Foxhill Elementary School, students listened attentively to a

community police officer, a hairdresser, a cake decorator, and a soldier. Then lieutenant governor

candidate Jane Swift took the stage to discuss her career in politics. The 33-year-old woman went

over the basics of her role as a state senator and then as a candidate for lieutenant governor. Then she gestured toward the army of reporters, producers, and camera crew members stationed around the edges of the auditorium. She asked the fourth-and fifth-graders, “Does anybody know why they are following me?” One boy ventured the answer, “Because they want to know what you stand for?” An amused Swift responded, “I only wish that were true. It’s because I am pregnant, and all of these guys think it’s a great big deal.” Three-term state senator Jane Swift campaigned for lieutenant governor pregnant with her first child. Later, she became the first governor in the history of the United States to give birth while in office. As a pioneer in her dual political and familial accomplishments, many working mothers looked to Jane Swift to succeed on their behalf. Yet ethical controversies and plummeting public approval ratings marked her time in office. Members of the media and Swift’s constituents scrutinized every story, most notably the complaints of aides who were expected to baby-sat her daughter unpaid. She was alternately harangued and applauded by the public. For some onlookers, frustrated by the pervasive double standards faced by women in politics, Jane Swift is a representation of the need for dramatic reform of the political system in which women exist. For others, Jane Swift is the woman who failed to seize the opportunity to prove that women can do it all.

The Path to Beacon Hill Jane Swift was raised in North Adams, a town in western Massachusetts situated significantly far from the power politics of Boston’s capitol on Beacon Hill. As a young girl, she looked on while her father, who owned a plumbing and heating business, took part in the electoral politics of the region, campaigning and raising funds for the Republican Party. Swift grew up _________________________________________________

Steffany Stern wrote this case for the Center on Women and Public Policy in 2004-2005 as part of a graduate course on case studies on women and public policy. The Center on Women and Public Policy provided supporting funds. ©Center on Women and Public Policy 2005.

with extensive exposure to relevant political issues, which brought about her own passion for public policy. After high school, she attended Trinity College, a small liberal arts institution, in Hartford, Connecticut, and completed a degree in American Studies. She then spent a year in a management position at a department store before Peter C. Webber, the state senator from Swift’s hometown for whom she had interned in college, recruited her to work for him. Her experience working for Webber served to reinforce her interest in public service, and though her initial intent was to gain experience, she became a candidate herself. In 1990, when Webber opted not to seek another term, Swift ran for the state senate, campaigning as a moderate on the Republican ticket.

She presented a fearless, confident, outgoing attitude to the public, and won the race, becoming the youngest woman ever elected to the Massachusetts Senate. She was twenty-five years old.

Swift’s success at her first attempt at elective office whetted her appetite for the work, but opened her eyes to the hazards of public life. She became aware early on that her character would be called into question, especially since she had the two-fold disadvantage of her youth and her gender. Swift was pressed by reporters to discuss her marital status—unmarried, at the time—and then rate the seriousness of her relationship with her boyfriend. Although Swift answered these questions through gritted teeth during the race, she later lamented the interrogation she received, proclaiming, “I don’t think a man my age would have been asked about his dating status. The implication was that if I were married I certainly wouldn’t want to do this job” (Clift 2003, 230).

During an election scrutiny of private life and family are not off-limits, and public perception of her maturity and stability were at stake. In this case, however, Swift was vying for an open seat, and she has speculated on a number of occasions that the novelty of a young woman’s image on a billboard may even have helped her gain the necessary name recognition to win the campaign (Gillett 1996).

Women and Electoral Politics Jane Swift’s relatively quick ascension into the state legislature was in many ways an atypical experience for a young woman, and led some political strategists to wonder whether the battle would be easier for her generation of female politicians. Historically, in the U.S., women do not enter politics in the same numbers, or via the same channels, as men did. For that matter, women do not enter politics in the same numbers they enter law, medicine, or journalism. The paucity of female elected officials occurs not only because women sometimes have difficulty winning elections, but also because women are not running for office. Men tend to put themselves forward with less prompting, while women generally need more encouragement to throw their hats into the ring. In addition, women tend to enter politics, on average, ten years later than men do. A major hurdle seems to be the difficulty of balancing the time-intensive work of politics, and the frenzy of campaigning, with the demands of family; the widely-held cultural perception that women have a duty to family that is different from men’s family obligations also hinders women’s opportunities to participate politically. The struggles to redefine expectations and occupy new roles are necessary steps, however, if American women politicians want to achieve greater political equality. As one candidate interviewed by Celinda Lake and Linda DiVall for a study for the Barbara Lee Family Foundation aptly states, “For people to get comfortable seeing women in executive roles, they have to see women in executive roles. They have to see women run” (2001, 8).

Once in the race, women candidates face a major obstacle when it comes to overcoming—or, if possible, using to their advantage—public perception of their abilities and affiliations. Evidence suggests that voters make assumptions about a woman candidate’s sense of duty to her family, especially if her children are young. Voters may question who comes first, her family, or her constituents. Specifically, studies have shown that voters tend to believe that women have stronger values than men, better characters, and are more moral. While family affiliation might help a woman candidate convince voters that she cares enough to stand up for family issues, she faces the challenge of establishing her strength, toughness, and executive ability.

But the assumption that women politicians are more morally sound than men can work against them, if it means that they are also held to higher standards. Typically, the public is more critical of women who have moral lapses; it is difficult for women to come back after an indiscretion. Moreover, voters may question whether women, if they are morally sound politicians, have the mettle to make the deals associated with politics. A gender gap exists when it comes to these assumptions; according to The Keys to the Governor’s Office, it seems that “Underneath the data, it appears that having a woman governor can exacerbate gender Biases—women voters become more pro-woman, while men voters become more stridently proman” (2001, 40).

Holding Office in Massachusetts The uphill battle that Jane Swift faced was particularly difficult in the context of Massachusetts. Although Massachusetts has a reputation for being a liberal, progressive state, Swift was just the 13th woman ever to be elected to the state senate. The state has never elected a woman to the governor’s office, or to a U.S. Senate seat. In 1998, when Swift was campaigning, only one woman had held statewide office. Massachusetts is largely Democratic, although it has elected several moderate Republicans to high-level positions. The state has a long history of bigname, high-status male politicians with names like Kennedy and O’Neill, and in keeping with the old adage, many speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives have come from “Boston or Austin” (Texas). Novices or challengers to Massachusetts’s political scene have a hard time achieving status when facing off against the state’s political pillars, especially if the novices are women.

Swift served in the State Senate for six years. It was during this time that she married Charles Hunt III, eleven years her senior and married previously, with children. In the Senate, Swift established a reputation for herself as an education reformer, authoring legislation aimed at redesigning graduation requirements. In 1996 Swift braved a run against First District Congressman John W. Oliver, a popular two-term Democratic incumbent. She raised funds aggressively, and came closer than was projected to winning the race, but lost by seven percentage points (53 to 47 percent).

Running for Lieutenant Governor Swift was an energetic thirty-one years old, and the Republican Party in the state responded to the promise of her youth and relative success as a candidate. William Weld, the Republican governor, offered her a position coordinating regional airports at the Massachusetts Port Authority (Mass Port). Swift gladly accepted the position, and her allegiance to Weld proved to be advantageous. When he vacated his position as governor because his name was being discussed for an ambassadorship, his popular lieutenant governor, Paul Cellucci, filled his position. Cellucci, in turn, elevated Jane Swift to the position of state director of consumer affairs.

When Cellucci needed a running mate for his 1998 gubernatorial campaign, he turned again to Jane Swift—after two male candidates and a few female candidates vying for other positions on the ticket had turned him down. State Treasurer Joseph Malone was challenging Cellucci in the GOP primary, and Malone had a female running mate, Janet Jeghelian.

Massachusetts political pundits were quick to declare that both Cellucci and Malone had ultimately surmised that they needed a woman on the ticket if they wanted a chance to win the primary, and the election. Commentators in major news media across the state cited the gender gap in voting patterns witnessed in past U.S. Senate elections between incumbent John F. Kerry and his unsuccessful GOP challengers, and assumed that the Republicans hoped to gain an electoral advantage by including women candidates. Cellucci’s campaign worked diligently to highlight his policy platforms regarding children and education in an overt attempt to appeal to women and independent voters. Moreover, no Republican women were running for statewide office at the time, while the Democrats in the state had several women lined up to compete, a potentially damaging situation for the GOP’s reputation. In the Democratic primary, two candidates were running for lieutenant governor: Dorothy Kelly Gay, and Warren Tolman, who was the only male and touted by the press as the most popular of the four candidates in the running.

After knocking Malone and Jeghelian out of the running, the Cellucci and Swift campaign quickly garnered attention when Swift learned, after over four years of trying to conceive, that she was due to give birth two weeks before election day. The race became the focus of national press, and political commentators on both sides of the aisle were occupied for months expounding their views of Swift’s political positions—and her pregnancy. The public was unaccustomed to dealing with a young female candidate, especially one who was visibly pregnant, and there was no clear protocol to follow.

During the campaign, Swift fielded questions that had little to do with her positions on issues. She deflected questions with humor, and often answered boldly and candidly. Her food cravings proved newsworthy, as did her morning sickness. “I’m going to write a book about the places to vomit in Boston,” (Goodman 1998, A27) she declared to one reporter. Her pregnancy was a matter of concern for the public; Swift began explaining upfront to interviewers that her coffee was decaffeinated. On one noteworthy occasion she was pressed by a talk-show host to identify her chosen method of feeding her newborn; when he asked whether she would breast- or bottle-feed, she retorted, “I have one word for you: pump!” During the campaign, a harried Swift confessed in an interview, I knew it would be a story. I knew people would be interested. I did not expect we would be getting involved in a debate as to whether or not women should work when they have children. Even if we’re going to focus on the pregnancy, I wish we could shift the debate to about, ‘What, then, do Jane Swift and Paul Cellucci think they can do on day care and creating more opportunities for flextime and meaningful part-time work?’ But we really haven’t gotten there yet (Goldberg 1998, A14).

As the campaign wore on, Swift tried valiantly to preserve some sense of privacy, and chose to keep quiet about her plans for childcare. She was gaining a reputation for being reticent and discreet among members of the press. She also faced criticism throughout her political career (and especially during campaigns) for lacking charisma, a media-friendly personality, and warmth. She and her husband had decided that he would stay home with the child, but they did not share their decision with the world. At the time, Swift summed up her point of view with the statement, “Every candidate needs a thirty-second sound bite that says, ‘None of your business’” (Clift, 2003, 232).

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