Perhaps more politically savvy Washington watchers were not surprised by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier’s announcement last week that she would not run again, this time for an eighth term representing California’s 14th Congressional District in the House of Representatives. The rest of us were rattled.
We were shocked because she has been a fixture in California politics for as long as memory serves. We were shocked because she would be impossible to beat were she to run again. And we were shocked because we didn’t want to believe that time comes even for politicians we admire.
We admire the 71-year-old Democrat from Hillsborough for her penchant to stand up for the little guy, or as is often the case, the voiceless women who have been subject to degradation, assault and worse in this country.
Amid the reckoning of the #MeToo movement, Speier talked about her own experience with sexual predation in no uncertain terms. She said then that a powerful staffer, 30 years her senior, once “held my face, kissed me, stuck his tongue in my mouth …” She described her anger and humiliation at that moment and said Congress itself was a “breeding ground for a hostile work environment.” In so doing, she acknowledged a problem in too many workplaces and told others it was OK to speak out and to fight back.
This fall alone, she has urged Congressional armed services committees to include parental leave in military budgets. She has railed against a system that has allowed reports of sexual assault in the military to double in the last decade. She has fought to restore rights granted under Title IX that protect young women from assault at school.
If you know nothing else about Jackie Speier, you probably recall that she was shot and left for dead in an ambush while on a mercy mission to Guyana with her then-boss, Rep. Leo Ryan. She lay on the tarmac for 22 hours before help arrived. Nearby, 900 members of the Peoples Temple lay dying.
Last week marked the 43rd anniversary of that dark day. That’s a long time, but not nearly long enough to erase the memory. The violence in Guyana clearly helped shape Speier’s worldview, making her more compassionate when it was appropriate, more passionate when necessary.
Last week, Speier was among those Democratic members of Congress to introduce a resolution censuring fellow House member Paul Gosar. This after the 62-year-old Republican from Wyoming proved to have a flair for Anime no one would have guessed given his demographic. He infamously posted an edited video that depicted his cartoon alter ego killing colleague Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We repeat, he is an adult.
Speier introduced the resolution by noting her own past.
“I am a victim of violence,” she said. “I know what it’s like.”
That empathy is in short supply these days and will be sorely missed in the halls of Congress.
— Clay Lambert