It's Election Day, and both this year and next, the political tide will be full of energized individuals across the nation, running to shift the progressive momentum that was lost in a disastrous 2016. We need it badly here in Iowa, as you see the hateful headline grabs that Representative Steve King, a populist Tea Party Republican, makes on a consistent basis. (He's famous for such anti-immigrant gems as "Can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies" and has proposed such anti-abortion nonsense as paying for the border wall with Planned Parenthood's funding.) I'm lucky enough get a behind-the-scenes look at the resistance: my mom, Leann Jacobsen, is running against King, one of America's most antagonistic congressmen, who is seeking reelection in 2018.
My mom almost always suppresses tears of passionate rage when asked about the current state of affairs for women and girls, and she definitely cries when she talks about her dad and lifelong hero, Grandpa Cliff, who was the first feminist she knew. To understand both of these things is to understand her complex need to constantly find new ways to lift up others around her, whether it's creating a bipartisan effort to get more women elected, organizing a farmers' market for sustainable produce, lobbying for children's-rights initiatives, or becoming the first city councilwoman elected in over three decades in Spencer, Iowa (her new home base after remarrying in 2011). Her hard work hasn't stopped since she had me at 22 and finished college at night after coming home from her day job.
She constantly worries about my four-year-old daughter, Gemma, and hopes that life on the campaign trail doesn't affect frequent trips to "Gram's house." And she understands that the previous Democratic candidate dropped out of the race after being concerned about death threats and intimidation. But the story that I will tell Gemma will be an inspiration in itself of when her grandma decided to forgo any normalcy at 54 and run for Congress.
LB: Why are you running for Congress?
LJ: I am running for Congress because I love Northwest Iowa. It is a beautiful and amazing place. But everywhere I look, it seems that there are people suffering, and rural communities are struggling. No one, including Steve King, is taking care of people in the district, and I know that we're not alone in this. I thought, Well, why not me? Why not fill that void?
LB: Are there specific instances you look back on that you feel have contributed to where you are now?
LJ: A lot of my experiences and things that I've done in life have prepared me for this moment. There's something very liberating about turning 50, so I think there's something there too. One of those instances would have to be moving to Iowa in 1998, and my first day on the job as VP of law and government affairs for AT&T, I walked into the legislature and could hardly tell people apart, because they all appeared to be 55-to-65-year-old white men. I wondered where all the women were. If we're going to create good laws that impact over half the population, shouldn't women be included to represent themselves?
We started a group called Iowa Women in Public Policy, and the purpose was to get more women involved at all levels of elected office, starting at city councils, boards and commissions, and supervisor roles, and all the way up to build that pipeline.
That organization was so instrumental in helping me see and understand how important it is to have a woman's perspective at the table when making policy. It was also a bipartisan effort, so I brought in strategic women leaders on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, including Iowa's former lieutenant governor Sally Pederson and former lieutenant governor Joy Corning. We all worked toward the same goal of getting women elected to office. The lessons I learned and the women I met during that experience are helping lift me as I embark on this really big and important race.