Champion Among Champions - U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier
I walked into her office and could sense it: The heart of a champion with an invigorating pulse for her community ... these two thoughts so clearly evident … where I recently met with our US Congresswoman, Jackie Speier.
Who is Jackie Speier? As if you didn’t already know, she’s our representative in Washington DC - Working extremely hard for us, our community and our common good. Full of energy, extremely knowledgeable and truly committed to public service.
Having heard so much about her, I was really looking forward to meeting her. However, you must realize a very unusual thing happened. The many people I told about my upcoming interview all responded the same way: “Jackie Speier? … I love her!” This is not the norm. Not in this day and age of politics. Indeed, far from it.
So, then, what is it? I would soon find out. I walked into her office and there it was - the first clue. There on the wall in her office was a framed Newsweek Magazine cover. A list declaring “150 Most Fearless Women” ... and, yes, Jackie is on the list. That suggests the answer to the question - who is Jackie Speier?
I was reading this cover when I heard: “Hello, Ken, I’m Jackie Speier.” I turned to face her, and, yes, it was definitely her ... with that welcoming smile, the one you see in all the pictures. It’s very genuine, sincere and kind.
From all that I had read and heard, and from the time we had together to talk, it was easy to see why everyone knows and admires her so. No one knows her constituency like Jackie does. And no one could be more committed to serving that constituency than she is.
Back in 1979, Jackie made a commitment to herself. If she survived that fateful day in Jonestown - where she had just witnessed her boss, Congressman Leo Ryan, get shot and killed and where she herself had been shot five times and left lying there for dead – she would devote her life to fighting for the common good. She committed herself to public service and also to live life to the fullest. She has kept that promise and has remained 100% committed ever since.
The Jonestown experience has given her the ability to see things differently. She said everything since then has been “bonus time”, having left her with a verve, a passion, a gusto for life ... and a sense of urgency. Jackie said a number of times, “You have to do what you feel is the right thing to do.” She lives by that. She is also convinced that “If we don’t do it, it won’t get done.” She has on her desk in Washington DC a paper weight with a reminder, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”
If we are looking for positive role models, we need not look any further. Indeed, she inspires others, no matter what the gender, no matter what the age. It is not if you fall, you will ... but that you get up, and never give up. Jackie attributes what success she has had to that what she calls having been a three-time loser. Each loss paved the way for a future success. She lost in her high school student body election for president. She lost in her first election for Congress back in 1979, which allowed her to become the youngest elected member of the Board of Supervisors at age 30. She lost the primary election for Lt. Governor by just 3% points to go on and become elected to the US House of Representatives.
Jackie has enjoyed getting to know her constituency having served here locally on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, then in the State Assembly and State Senate in Sacramento, and now in Congress in Washington DC.
Years ago, Jackie started “A Day In The Life Of”. Imagine, if you will, your doorbell rings. Who is it, you wonder. You open the door and, oh my, it’s Jackie Speier - your UPS deliverer for the day ... or Safeway bagger ... or Home Depot paint mixer ... the list is a long one. Jackie is out there, working with us, for us, as us.
Jackie therefore truly comes from experience, with experience. She holds regular Town Hall Meetings. She talks with her constituents at events such as Job Hunters Boot Camp, Seniors On The Move, Veterans Fix-It Meetings, Congress On Your Corner and When I Grow Up. Immediately upon the PG&E explosion in San Bruno, Jackie was physically there with the people every day for weeks - and stayed by their sides, serving them, helping them. She has an excellent understanding of the pulse of our community and every day she works very hard to make our community stronger, our world a better and safer one for all to live and work and play in.
Jackie, with enthusiasm, has taken on difficult challenging tasks. She believes, “Make things happen for all the right reasons.” She has battled with banks, credit card companies, security firms and the NRA. Seeing the 26 caskets of innocent and beautiful children and their courageous teachers, compelled her to do whatever necessary so that their deaths will not be in vain. Gun violence prevention is one of her priorities.
Other important issues include: military rape, human trafficking, health care reform, accountability in government, overspending in the Department of Defense and e-fairness in online sales tax. It’s about protecting lives and helping change them for the better. It’s also about investing in education and the future, and about doing what’s right.
So much of Jackie’s life has been about overcoming adversity. She met the man of her dreams, Dr. Steve Sierra. They married and were extremely happy. They had a wonderful son. Then, however, came not one but two miscarriages. The odds for another baby she was told, natural or invitro, were indeed small.
This was in 1994. Against great odds, Jackie became pregnant naturally. One day, she got a call - a car had hit her husband. The hardest thing she ever had to do in her life, as she put it, was to pick up her 5 ½ year old son from school, rush to the hospital, have him say good bye to his daddy and then having to pull the plug.
Her husband had let his life insurance lapse. Jackie all of a sudden was left near bankruptcy.
How did she rise above such hardship and continue to be the caring, determined and upbeat representative she is? “It was always about putting one foot forward and then the other,” she said. “There’s also nothing like having children - it’s something that makes life bigger than you”.
Eight years after the tragic loss of her husband, Jackie went on a blind date with Barry Dennis. Barry was a confirmed bachelor and an avid fly fisherman. Now he’s just an avid fly fisherman. Jackie and Barry got married and he adopted both of her children.
I asked Jackie if she is optimistic about our future. She responded: “You have to be optimistic in this business, otherwise why would you do it?” And her heroes (or “sheroes”, as she said, smiling)? Indeed, she has been truly inspired by her grandmother who, if born later in time, could have been President, and Mother Teresa and her key of being “other-focused”
The heart of a champion ... a living legend ... championing great causes. Those are my words. That is who I feel Jackie Speier is and what she represents in our community and our world. It is only fitting that she is in what we call the House of Representatives on our behalf.