Meet Margaret Abe-Koga Councilmember, City of Mountain View
Q: What advice do you have for young women who want to pursue a career in politics?
MAK: Know why you want to be in politics and especially if you want to run for elected office. Have a firm grasp of your values, principles and the causes you care about, and have a vision of what you want to accomplish in office. Then go out and get involved in those causes so that you can meet other like-minded people who can become your base of support.
Q: What is one skill you believe that women should have to facilitate a successful career in politics?
MAK: Politics is about putting yourself out there, so it’s important to possess the willingness to take risks and be willing to fail, but then having the resilience to try again. When running for office, you can win some and lose some. I’ve lost a few races along the way, and although it was definitely difficult to deal with, in time, I’ve been able to recover, learn from the experience, and was able to set myself up for winning the next race. Campaigning entails having to ask for money, ask for help, ask for votes. You get “no” as a response often, so you have to be able to accept it and keep going.
Q: When will women in politics become the norm?
MAK:I think there need to be enough women in politics who can serve as role models, mentors, and a support network for other aspiring women political leaders. Frankly speaking, it is quite lonely to be a woman in elected office because there are so few of us. My City Council has been pretty good with gender balance as two or three of us out of seven have been women. But I have served on regional public agency boards where I have been the only woman out of fifteen, or one of two women on a board of fourteen. There is definitely a camaraderie that forms amongst the women and that support network is instrumental in encouraging other women to serve. That’s why I feel a strong responsibility to encourage other women to pursue politics and elected office and strive to be a mentor to others.
Q: Why do you think women remain underrepresented in business and politics?
MAK: It’s somewhat of a chicken and the egg situation. I think because there is a lack of women in business and politics, it is hard to get more women in these areas. There are also societal norms that need to transform. Even in this day and age, I think women are still expected to be the ones to bear the responsibility of caring for family and children. This is certainly changing with more men sharing in the responsibility, but it is still the exception and not the rule. As a result, if a woman decides to have a family, she often may feel the need to take a break in her career. When I had children, as much as I wanted to work, I did not want to work fulltime. Unfortunately, there are not many fulfilling opportunities for part-time work. I ended up running for political office instead, which was actually fairly to my schedule as a mom. But I still needed support and have been fortunate to have a husband who has been extremely supportive and a true partner in raising our children. I think women in business face similar challenges, and may even feel as though they have to choose between family and a career. I think we need
Q: While there is no clear consensus, about four-in-ten say that women who run for office are held to higher standards than men and need to do more to prove themselves. What needs to happen to change this?
MAK: I think that the more women we see in politics, people’s assumptions will change. Although great strides have been made, there is still an “old boys’ network” in politics. As the first Asian American woman to serve on the Mountain View City Council and as Mayor, I have certainly experienced sexism along with racism. I’ve been called too nice to be a political leader. When I have been at events, people ask me where my children are but don’t ask the same of the men. People questioned whether I could serve in office and keep up with the demands of the job while raising with young children. Knowing these impressions people had of me and other women and mothers, I set out to work harder than anyone else to prove to the community that I could do the job well. As our numbers grow, I think people are getting more comfortable with women as elected leaders, and in some circumstances people may find women to be the better candidates and elected leaders.
Q: What has been your greatest achievement?
MAK: Personally, it’s been having my two daughters. Politically was having championed the raising of the minimum wage in our City above federal and state standards. On January 1, 2018, Mountain View will be the first City in Santa Clara County to have a minimum wage of $15/hour. I am proud to have started the movement to raise the wage in our City.
Q: If there's one wish you could be granted to change the way congress works ... what would that be?
MAK: I wish there were less partisanship and more collaboration to do what is best for the Country, not what is best for the respective parties or for individual members. I worked for a Member of Congress in the 1990’s, and I saw firsthand how Members from both sides would reach across the aisle to find common ground and move policy forward. In local government, we serve in a non-partisan fashion and I am proud of how much we are able to get done. We need our Congress to move beyond labels, take issues on their own merit and make policy that is going to improve the lives of as many Americans as possible. I worry about the growing divide between the haves and have nots, and that division will lead to the downfall of this nation unless we work to turn things around quickly.
Q: How do you rate the Government’s performance?
MAK: I would say it depends on the level – Federal Government is a D. State Government has improved in the past couple of years and, so I would give it a B. As Former House Speaker Tip
O’Neill once said, all politics is local, and I think constituents understand that and have the highest satisfaction with their local government, so I rate local government as a B+/A-.
Q: If you had the power, what one Government policy would you reverse?
MAK: I would institute Gun Control. As much as the Second Amendment gives the right to bear arms, we are in different times now. The U.S. is just 5% of the world’s population but hold 31% of global mass shooters. Gun homicide rates are 25 times higher than in other high-income countries. As a mother, it troubles me that nearly 6000 children are injured by guns each year, and 1300 of them die. We are hearing of too many mass shootings these days, and we need to change this trend.
Q: Why should women-business owners support you?
MAK: I was a woman business owner for a short time and learned the challenges of running your own business. Although there is clear satisfaction in having your own venture, it is definitely hard work to make a business successful. My experience as a small business owner has certainly influenced my decision-making and I’ve worked hard to be business friendly and to promote economic development opportunities in our community.
Five Things About Margaret Abe-Koga
1. If you could meet anyone famous past or present … who would it be and why?
I would like to meet the Dalai Lama in hopes that I might gain some enlightenment from an enlightened person like him.
2. Can you tell us one of your passions in life?
My parents were immigrants from Japan who never picked up the English language, so as soon as I learned to speak English, I became their translator. Through this role, I saw discrimination, injustice and the many obstacles people can face when they don’t have a voice. As a result, it has been one of my passions to work to ensure that everyone has a voice, especially in the political process where important decisions are made that can affect lives. Even if there are voices that I may not agree with, I think it is crucial that everyone be heard, and therefore, I’ve worked hard to listen to as many perspectives as possible before I case a vote or make a decision.
3. How do you deal with stress?
Last year, I battled breast cancer. Thankfully, I am in remission. The experience taught me many things and gave me a new perspective on life: mainly that nothing is that important to risk one’s life for. Health is the most important thing. I always try to keep these thoughts in the back of my mind, so I can minimize the stress in my life. I also love exercise, which helps to keep me calm and grounded.
4. It there a place you always dreamed of visiting?
I’ve always wanted to visit Greece. I’ve had an interest in Greek Mythology since I was young, and so I would love to travel to the location where those myths originated.
5. What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
My parents taught me to pay it forward, and that what goes around comes around. By doing good in the world, good will come back, and by helping others, others will in turn lend a helping hand have to say my parents were right. I’ve benefitted from many people helping me along the way, and so I am compelled to help others.