Opinion

Yes, Running for Office Is Risky, But It's Worth It

There's never a good time to run, according to two women who know first hand: former senator Barbara Boxer and her daughter, Nicole.

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Getty ImagesMorgan McMullen
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Every Tuesday for the next six weeks, former senator Barbara Boxer and her filmmaker and activist daughter, Nicole Boxer, who host a , will breakdown everything you need to know about the midterms, from the issues at stake to the candidates who deserve our vote. Women have suffered some tough blows recently, but we can fight back. This week, the mother-daughter duo each share their unique perspective on why it's okay for women—especially moms—to ignore the naysayers and run anyway.


Our family knows first-hand that “there is never a good time” to run for public office, especially if the new workplace is far from home—and especially if you’re female. There are kids to worry about, parents to worry about; a predictable life will be lost.

In fact, once elected unpredictability intensifies exponentially. You may wake up focused on one crisis, when suddenly another catches you completely off guard. And your family life takes a back seat every time.

So for women who prefer being in control of their time and their calendar, running for office is a giant leap of faith. As a result, we see state legislatures and the United States Congress dominated by men who have been raised, for the most part, with a greater sense of adventure and risk taking. But that’s not going to cut it for women today, who expect equal representation in government. As they should.

SENATE BOXER, SAN FRANCISCO, USA
Barbara and her family (from left: son Doug, daughter-in-law Amy, daughter Nicole, and husband Stewart) look over exit polling data on election night in November 2004.
JEFF CHIU/AP/REX/Shutterstock

I am here to say this: It’s precisely because of our kids and our parents that women should run, because so much is at stake for them—education, safe schools, equal opportunity, respect for privacy rights, Medicare, Social Security, affordable housing, transportation. Just to name a few.

Then there’s action on climate change which will determine the very livability of our planet.

It’s precisely because of our kids and our parents that women should run.

No, there is never a perfect time to run for office, but I can tell you this: It will be an adventure worth pursuing. Just the campaign alone is an extraordinary experience. It is the opportunity to bring together people who see the world the way you do— people who believe in you and your ability to carry critical issues forward in an intelligent way. You will make lifelong friends and allies, win or lose.

But it is clear to me that if you focus, plan, and organize your chance of winning is good. Because when times are chaotic people tend to turn toward women. So, though it will never be a perfect time to run, don’t turn away from public service. Think about it, discuss it with your family and those who love and care about you. Understand that losing is a possibility. I lost my first race in 1972 for the Marin County Board of Supervisors, but the sun still came up the very next day. You heal and then you will become better for the experience.

I don’t want to sugarcoat anything. There will be trolls and naysayers and just plan jerks out there. I still deal with that after 40 years in elected life. But none of that matters. It only means you are relevant. So as you fight back—just as I am still doing—don’t rule out putting your name on the ballot! Get out there, get some skin in the game and just do it.

—Barbara Boxer


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Women stepping up to run for office regularly face a steady stream of criticism. A common complaint: “How can you run off to Washington, D.C., and serve well in Congress, abandoning your kids back home in the district? Are you a mom, or are you a Member of Congress?” But hey, speaking as the daughter of a veteran female elected official my entire life, I can honestly tell you whether your mom is home running the carpool, or she is running the , your mom is beautifully imperfect, at her best. In fact, life is full of wins and losses for both the women who are running, and the kids who love them.

In times of crisis, weigh your options wisely. It’s not sexy, but practical and true: Take out a notepad and make a vertical line down the center. Write PROS on one side of the line, and CONS on the other. What do you see?

This is the exercise our family ran in the spring of 1992, when my trailblazing mom, Barbara Boxer, decided to run for the U.S. Senate. Mom had made a name for herself over the 10 years she served in the House of Representatives in the 1980s along with other infamous members of the dynamic Women’s Caucus: Patsy Mink of Hawaii, Pat Schroeder of Colorado, Geraldine Ferrarro of New York, and Nancy Pelosi of California to name just a few. There were only 28 women members out of 435, when my mother had arrived to the House in 1982. She was on the precipice of history when events spiraled out of her control.

The had exploded and spilled out into the national newspapers, taking my mother and her rising reputation as a young, savvy political fighter along with it. It was true, she had overdrawn her account due to careless, financial miscalculations, and the scandal threatened to sideline her historic run. As she boarded a flight home from D.C., she called my dad to tell him she was done with politics, she was going to quit the Senate race.

From daughter to mother, my advice was be strong and be fierce in the face of an anti-woman Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Barbara presents the Genii award for Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking to Nicole in May 2016.
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My dad took uncharacteristic action. He tasked my older brother Doug, who had just graduated Law School, and me to remind our mom of the PROS of running for Senate—the core heartfelt reasons she had set out in politics in the first place. She wanted to make life better for people, even after all the CONS: the nasty fights, the exhausting travel, the brutal fundraising, and the heartache of the negative ads, now emblazoning her with the moniker “Barbara Bouncer.”

Somehow we knew that the “PROS” outweighed the “CONS,” even at the youthful adult ages of 23 and 25, we knew she had to run, to just do it. Doug read my mom Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go, while I steeled into a monologue about the importance of her run for women and girls. I told my mom that she couldn’t drop out because so many young women were looking to see her response at just that moment in the wake of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. From daughter to mother, my advice was be strong and be fierce in the face of an anti-woman Senate Judiciary Committee. After all, what message would quitting send to women and girls, just to save a temporary bit of embarrassment?

As a woman, there will never be a perfect time to run for office. Critics will say, “your kids are too young,” or “you don’t have enough experience,” or “you’re too old, you don’t even know how to create impactful interactive social media!” Just weigh the “PROS” and “CONS,” follow your heart and follow your call to service in the world. The rest is history.

—Nicole Boxer

Tune into new episodes of Barbara and Nicole's podcast, every Thursday on iTunes or Podcast One for more insight on current political issues and interviews with people who are in the fight for America.


Morgan McMullen

From explainers to essays, cheat sheets to candidate analysis, we're breaking down exactly what you need to know about this year's midterms. Visit Carte-Mere's Midterms Guide for more.

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