The Return of Jane Swift
By Ed O'Keefe
Former acting Massachusetts governor Jane Swift, the only governor until Sarah Palin to give birth while in office, has emerged from political retirement to become a leading public defender of the Alaskan vice presidential nominee -- hosting conference calls and news conferences and appearing on several cable news shows in her defense.
"I did the reverse of Sarah Palin. I went to the PTA after being governor," noted Swift in a telephone interview yesterday afternoon. But her own famous struggles balancing work and family have given her a unique insight, she said, into the challenges Palin may face as the first nursing mother on a major party presidential ticket.
"If you are able to paint a picture of doing it very very well, then you lose your appeal to everyone else struggling with it," said Swift of the process of combining high-level elective office with small children. "If you appear to be incompetent and not able to do both, then people question your ability to do well when people want to know you're a good mother. This to me is the biggest double standard."
Swift first reached out to Palin last spring, after the Alaska governor publicly announced her fifth pregnancy. They met in person when Palin traveled to Philadelphia in July for the National Governors Association meeting. "I liked her immensely," said Swift. "I was struck by the fact that we had very similar backgrounds and I was thrilled that she was fairing so well politically. I guess the one thing we didn't have in common is that she is the most popular governor in the nation politically and I never held that distinction."
When Swift first heard the news that Palin was McCain's likely running mate pick, she contacted the campaign to offer her help, any way she could.
"The top levels of the campaign, since New Hampshire, have known that if they need my help, I can help," she said. Earlier in the cycle, Swift had spent a considerable amount of time with McCain in New Hampshire, knocking on doors, making phone calls and appearing at town hall meetings.
Critics of Swift's -- and in Massachusetts, there are plenty -- find her new prominence as an advocate for a woman touting her ability to manage work and family amusing.
"She struggled to balance work and family, so she's not a shining example of the woman who 'had it all,'" says Jeffrey Berry, a Bay State political observer and Tufts University professor.
Swift ascended to the Massachusetts governorship back in April 2001, when Gov. Paul Cellucci stepped down to become ambassador to Canada and she was the state's lieutenant governor. Her struggles, at that point, had already begun. As lieutenant governor, a state ethics commission fined her for asking staffers to babysit her young daughter. After becoming governor, she faced criticism for using a state helicopter to fly from Boston to her home in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts.
Ultimately Swift declined to run for governor in 2002 amid the controversy and Republican pressure to step aside in favor of Mitt Romney, who had just completed a successful tenure as the head of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics organizing committee.
"She's actually a very articulate, in many ways successful governor. The press didn't do her any justice unfortunately," says Republican strategist and friend Ron Kaufman, a Massachusetts native.
Swift's return to the political stage now raises questions about her political future. The former governor lives in Williamstown, Mass., with her husband and three daughters. She travels nationwide as an education consultant and gives speeches on women's leadership and education. Though she lost a congressional race against Rep. John Olver (D-Mass.) in 1996, but some speculate she may run for the seat whenever Olver decides to step down.
"I think the more likely aspiration is an appointed position in the McCain Administration" than an elected one, predicts Berry, as the Berkshire area has become more Democratic in recent years.
Swift, like many former politicos, is still trying to figure it all out. "Like everybody else, I'm looking to figure out how to maximize the opportunity," Swift says of her campaign work. She's invited several folks she's met in recent weeks to meet speak with students at a Williams College course she will teach next spring. She's also a parent volunteer at her children's school and a Brownies parent leader.
Says Swift, "Six years later, knowing what it's like to have Saturdays off, it gives you a different perspective."
Web Politics Editor
September 12, 2008; 12:54 PM ET
Categories: Cast of Characters , Sarah Palin
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