A Conversation with Senator Dianne Feinstein

In her political career, rising from a position on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to serving as California’s Senior Senator, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has not just had a front row seat to the changing roles of women in politics; she’s been an important player.
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In her political career, rising from a position on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to serving as California’s Senior Senator, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has not just had a front row seat to the changing roles of women in politics; she’s been an important player.

“Women contribute on their own, and women get elected on their own, and women support other women,” Feinstein said of some of the changes she’s witnessed since first deciding on a career in public service.

Feinstein, 74, got her start on the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors in 1969 in what she says was an atmosphere of “women need not apply.”

“What existed then was, I think, a deep suspicion by women of other women,” Feinstein said. “Or, ‘What’s wrong with her? She must have a bad marriage.’ It was difficult.”

Feinstein served on the board for nine years and became its first female president. But two unsuccessful attempts to run for mayor of San Francisco in 1971 and 1975 had her worried there was still an enormous barrier for women.

“I was convinced even at that time that women were not electable,” she said.

In November of 1978, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated. As president of the Board of Supervisors Feinstein became Mayor. She served the remainder of Moscone’s term as the first female Mayor of San Francisco and was elected to two subsequent four-year terms.

In 1992, she went to Washington as the first female Senator from California. She also became the first woman to serve as the Chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. Among her other committee assignments is a seat on the Judicial Committee where she chairs the subcommittee on terrorism, technology and homeland security.

Feinstein said her best piece of advice for women interested in becoming more politically involved is to not give up even when faced with losses or disappointments.

“Don’t give up. That’s the advice. It’s drive, it’s staying power, it’s motivation,” she said.

A good way for busy mothers to begin to get involved is through the League of Women Voters, Feinstein said.

Feinstein said membership in the league can help with understanding ballot issues and finding ways to become involved.

“Also, pick an issue. Become really knowledgeable about an issue,” Feinstein said. “For me it was crime.”

She also suggests if you care about a particular candidate, volunteer for their campaign.

“I’ve stuffed envelopes. I loved being a small part of a big campaign,” she said.

Exposure to politics can lead to more involvement. Though not always, she notes with a laugh. Feinstein’s daughter, Katherine Feinstein Mariano, is a judge in San Francisco and has no interest in the political arena, she said, but her 15-year-old granddaughter is very interested and takes red-eye flights to visit her in Washington.

Feinstein said she thinks the most important quality women bring to politics is a solution-oriented approach.

It’s something she says is evident in the campaign of fellow Sen. Hillary Clinton, whom Feinstein has endorsed in this year’s presidential race.

Feinstein also believes this year’s election is the most important in her lifetime.

“We have to move away from where we have been for the last 8 years and take this nation in a new direction,” she said.

That new direction, which she said should include a focus on foreign policy and the economy, is something Feinstein looks forward to helping shape along with her colleagues in the House and Senate.

“I feel that I want to use every day to the fullest. That if I start something I want to finish it,” Feinstein said.

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