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Politics, a Family Affair. An Interview with Senator Landrieu

Sen. Mary Landrieu comes from a family committed to public and community service but the Democrat from Louisiana says she had other plans before being elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives at 23.

After majoring in social work at Louisiana State University, Landrieu had become interested in real estate.

“I thought about (doing) social work and real estate part time,” Landrieu said.

Since the Legislature was also a part-time endeavor it seemed like it could work. However, the pull of community service was too great and Landrieu says maybe she’ll get back to the real estate business someday, but not soon.

As the oldest of Verna and Moon Landrieu’s nine children she grew up aware of her parents’ commitment to public service.

Moon Landrieu was a New Orleans City Councilman, a Louisiana State Representative, Mayor of New Orleans and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Jimmy Carter. Her brother, Mitch Landrieu, is currently Louisiana’s Lieutenant Governor.

Landrieu, 52, says one of the rewards of her political career has been having such a broad impact.

“I believed (politics) was a great way to serve ones community,” she said. “You’re in a position to affect a broad array of policies.”

Landrieu says as a young woman she was aware that there was a bias against women getting into the public sphere because it got in the way of raising a family, but she looked at it in different way.

“When people say, ‘why don’t you stay home?’ I remember when I was a young girl I wondered who takes care of the children who don’t have mothers? I remember thinking if people volunteered not only to take care of their own children, but the children of others the world would be a lot better place,” Landrieu said. “I am proud to have been influential in the lives of thousands of children.”

After becoming the youngest woman ever elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives and serving there for eight years, Landrieu ran for State Treasurer serving for another eight years. In 1996, she became the first woman from Louisiana elected to a full-term in the U.S. Senate. She was reelected in 2002.

The state’s senior senator, Landrieu also serves on the Appropriations, Energy and Natural Resources and Small Business Committees. She also co-chairs the Common Ground Coalition, the Senate’s centrist caucus, with Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, Landrieu co-chairs.

Landrieu said there has never been a better time than now for women, even if they’re strapped for time, to become politically involved.

“Women are taking their rightful place in leading in the public sphere,” she said. “It’s a very exciting time. The Internet makes it so easy now”

Rather than having to spend time working the phones or attending community meetings the Internet is an excellent tool for becoming involved on your own schedule, Landrieu said.

It is good advice coming from someone who says time, or lack thereof, is also her worst enemy.

Landrieu and her husband Frank Snellings, an attorney, have two adopted children Connor, 16, and Mary Shannon, 11.

She said spending nights away from her husband and family is one of the hardest parts of her job.

“I can’t make it to all of my 16-year old son’s track meets and baseball games. I go to as many as I can,” Landrieu said. “But on the other hand, our children have been exposed to things that will really benefit them in their lives,” she said. “My 11-year-old daughter has been to (watch) the Senate … she’s met two presidents. These experiences have been wonderful for our children.”

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