By Corilyn Shropshire
June 9, 2009
Despite being the first woman to clutch the gavel as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi often portrays herself humbly -- as a mother of five who went from the kitchen to Congress. That's only part of the story.
Sure, there might have been the occasional day when Pelosi was a scrambling San Francisco mom who barely had time to wash her face and throw her coat over her nightgown to do her car pool (an assertion that her youngest daughter, documentarian Alexandra, contradicts.)
But she was also a superorganized, disciplined and well-connected Democratic Party operative for years before she was elected to Congress in 1987.
In her book Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters, Pelosi, the 69-year-old daughter of the late Baltimore mayor and Rep. Thomas D'Alesandro Jr. offers some advice for women seeking to carve their own path. Perhaps her most sage advice: “Politics is not for the faint of heart. It never has been.”
Before her appearance in Houston later this week, she took a few minutes to talk to the Chronicle about her book and her work. Following are excerpts from that conversation, edited and condensed:
Q: In your book, you tell young women to “be ready,” as you were when your predecessor, the late Congresswoman Sala Burton, encouraged you to run for her seat in 1987 and again when you were elected Speaker of the House in 2007.
A: I always want women to take inventory of their talent and of what they have to offer, and it's always more than they might suspect. It's important to know your strengths so when this opportunity comes you know that you can do the job, because you're confident in who you are. That's what I mean by be ready -- to have your life in order, to welcome opportunity when it comes and to not be afraid of it.
Q: What are the pitfalls to having Democrats at the helm in Congress and in the White House?
A: None (laughs).
Q: What happens when interests collide?
A: We understand that part of our responsibility is to find our common ground, to get a job done for the American people in a way that is relevant to their lives. If we can't find common ground, then we have that debate, whether it's between the parties or the branches of government.
Q: Describe the dynamic between you and President Obama. Are you one of the select few who has his coveted, top-secret e-mail address?
A: I don't have his e-mail. If I had it, I wouldn't use it. … We speak on a regular basis, we talk on the phone or I'll be there (at the White House) for a meeting or a particular purpose or a ceremonial purpose in which we have a chance to talk about issues. Certainly as needed, and from my standpoint often enough.
Q: In recent weeks, your credibility has been challenged in regard to the extent of your knowledge of the CIA's interrogation practices in 2002. How do you plan on getting beyond this and convincing the public that you are telling the truth?
A: Well, I am telling the truth first of all. Our success legislatively has driven the Republicans to distraction. Their point is to try to get us off our course of action in terms of honoring our principles established in our budget -- education, health care and energy. We will have that legislation, we will succeed with it and I will not be distracted by their attempt to distract the American people from what is really important.