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The Post and Courier: Nancy Pelosi: House speaker talks about her job, women in politics

Editor's note: The Charleston Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held its 94th annual Freedom Fund Banquet on Saturday in North Charleston, S.C. The Post and Courier interviewed keynote speaker Nancy Pelosi, the first woman speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Q: How did you first get involved in politics?

A: From the time I was in first grade until I went away to college, my father was mayor of Baltimore. Yet even though politics was the family business and my parents taught me that public service was a noble calling, I never thought about running for office myself until long after I had raised my five children.

I was involved in politics as a volunteer for decades. And when the opportunity to run for Congress presented itself, I was ready. And when I got to Washington, I was ready for the chance to lead. One of my favorite pieces of advice for young people is to be ready.

Q: Did it ever occur to you that you would one day be the first woman to be speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives?

A: When I came to Congress, my goal was to serve for five terms -- 10 years. Back then, 10 years seemed like a very long time. But I've now been in Congress 23 years and had the privilege to serve as speaker of the House for the last four years. That's because when I saw opportunities, I seized them.
 
But I will always be grateful to my colleagues who gave me the chance to lead. In electing the first woman speaker, they brought our nation closer to the ideal of equality: our heritage, and our hope. And as the first woman speaker of the House, I will work to make certain that I will not be the last.

Q: What advice would you give young women considering careers in politics? What is the biggest factor in the way of women's success, and what can be done about it? South Carolina has very few women in the state Legislature, and none of its U.S. representatives or senators are women. What do you think it would take to change that?

A: Women have made great gains in the political arena: when I was first elected to Congress in 1987, there were only 20 women in the House of Representatives; today we have 76.

But women do continue to face unique challenges when running for higher office, in South Carolina, across the country, and around the world. They consistently find it harder to raise money, harder to network, and most of all, harder to win. But the best way to combat these challenges is for every woman who succeeds to reach back and help other women. This is ultimately good for all Americans.

Because any discussion of the most serious issues facing our country is enhanced by diversity at the table -- diversity of gender, diversity of ethnicity, and diversity of opinion. But we are making progress, and after every election Congress looks more and more like America.

Q: You have talked with women across the country. In your experience, on which issues are conservative and more liberal women most likely to agree? On which issues are they least likely to agree?

A: I think that women uniquely understand that one of the greatest challenges facing the American economy and American families is the lack of affordable, quality child care. For women at all income levels to succeed in their jobs, we must support the motto: 'families earning, children learning.'