One of the really amazing things about being at the Democratic convention this week was all the women (and young women) who were there — delegates, attendees, elected officials and others. It was very cool to see so many young women getting so excited and involved about politics. So when I got a chance on the very last day to interview Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (thanks in no small part to my new friend Erin Hofteig at Media Matters, who arranged for me to use their conference room and this balcony), I knew I had to ask her about her experiences getting politically engaged and her advice for those of you who are contemplating it yourselves.MEGAN: What got you interested in politics as a young woman? GOVERNOR GRANHOLM: Actually my folks — who were immigrants, and I'm an immigrant to this country, too, having been born in Canada, though we moved here when I was 3 years old — they were always very focused on service. And they taught me that we were put on this planet to do something more than serve ourselves and that we have an obligation to make it better, in whatever way people can do that. My parents are avid Republicans so, in high school, I worked for Gerald Ford, going door-to-door when he was seeking to be re-elected, or, elected for the first time since he ascended after Nixon. But, when I got to college, post-high school, I moved further to the center and then further to the left. I ended up working for John B. Anderson, who was an independent Presidential candidate. Then I continued to move further left on the spectrum and became an avid Democrat, largely because I come from such middle class roots and knowing that, in my experience, the Democratic party has been the party that speaks to pocketbook issues for real people and speaks to equality and tries to make the playing field level for all citizens. So that's how I got interested in politics. MEGAN: And what made you decide are all the kinds of service, of all the ways you could have served your community, to go into politics? GOVERNOR GRANHOLM: I went to law school — I was the first person in my family to go to college at all and ended up going to Harvard Law School, which was a really big deal for my family — and at law school I wanted to be a civil rights lawyer. There just some truly great professors, especially women professors, who really motivated me to make sure that the law was used as both a sword and a shield for making sure that people had equal access to jobs or to whatever democracy has to offer. So when I got out, I thought I was going to be a public sector lawyer — I was going to be a civil rights lawyer, I ended up a prosecutor. I had a very good track record as a federal prosecutor. So, in fact, I wasn't thinking about political office for myself. I worked for campaigns and I supported political candidates, but I never thought of myself as someone who would run. But when the attorney general of the state of Michigan retired, a number of people came to me and said, "You know, you should run for attorney general." And I thought, "Get out of here! Why would I do that?" My mother always told me three things you should do or not do:
- Don't ask strangers for money.
- Don't talk about yourself because no one wants to hear it, and
- Don't wear your good clothes every day.
Now, in politics, you do all three of those things , so how I got into politics with that advice, I can't say. But when I started running, which was a really big deal because a lot of times women, I think, are used to being in the background and helping others, so it's difficult sometimes for women to say, "It's me." I'm a pre-title IX woman, so for our generation a lot of times the kind of competition and competitiveness and the sense of besting your opponent was not something we had a whole lot of access to in school. So it was a very bid decision for me to decide to run for statewide office when I'd never been elected to anything. But that's how I jumped in. MEGAN: I've heard this from other women candidates, and you alluded to it earlier, this reluctance among particularly women candidates to ask people for money. On the other hand, women candidates — and you can see that from the women Senators, Governors and Congresspeople here —can be really great fundraisers. What has your experience been like raising money to continue to run for office. GOVERNOR GRANHOLM: Well, I've raised record amount of money for a Democratic candidate in our state. But the reason why it becomes easier is that you realize that you're not asking for money for people about you. It's not about you. It's about what change you want to bring about. So if I'm going to advocate for and bring alternative and renewable energy jobs to Michigan, that's what you're investing in, that policy. If I'm advocating for early childhood education, that's what you're investing in. And it's a much easier thing when people realize this. Hillary Clinton the other night said, "Did you get involved in this campaign for me? Or did you do it for the woman with leukemia?" You did it for that. That's what it's all about. So getting women to step out of themselves and to realize that this is about something much more important than just one person or one's self. It's not about ego. It is about getting things done. And that's the great thing about women candidates — it's that they get things done. They're used to being the ones who get things done and not necessarily having to be the one to take the credit. And that's why they're so effective as leaders and as candidates — because they're generous and gracious candidates, and they're generous and gracious leaders. MEGAN: If you had one piece of advice that you could give to the women reading this site that might be interested in getting involved in politics, where would you advise them to start, or what would you advise them to do? GOVERNOR GRANHOLM: There's a couple of places that have great resources. The Barbara Lee Family Foundation — now, I speak as a governor — in Massachusetts is focused on getting women to run for executive office. And they have a book called "The Keys to the Governor's Office" — but you could say the keys to any executive office that women might want to run for. It has specific steps that women should take if they are interested in running. But I think the most important step that a woman needs to take is to be bold. To realize that change is not going to happen unless they jump in, and not to cede it to other people, not to assume that others are going to do it for them. If they are dissatisfied about something then they have the responsibility as a citizen on the planet to make that change themselves. So they need to get the backbone steel to jump in. And there's lots of tools out there for women once they've made that decision. But it's the threshold decision that is theirs. And I think they need to ask themselves why they were put on this planet.