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June 21, 2002
The Official Word
 
Read more from...
State Rep. April Fairfield
D-North Dakota

Although I have held public office for six years, the 2001 legislative session was the most challenging and interesting of my political career. I have, throughout my career, advocated for progressive solutions to the problems that face the state of North Dakota. I have endeavored to be a champion for family farmers, ranchers, rural communities, women, children, working people, veterans and others who, in my opinion, struggle at times to see the American dream.

On the morning of March 6, 2001, my daughter Kennedy was born. This taught me that personal experiences often transcend public life, even for public servants. Although I missed six days of the legislative session for her birth, I returned to the legislature as soon as possible, and Kennedy became a crucial part of my work in the legislature.

Kennedy and I were given every reasonable consideration. Fellow legislators looked after her on occasion, the minority leader allowed his office to serve as a nursery when needed, and legislators from both parties supported our presence in the legislative chamber without hesitation.

Of course, that is how it should be. The logistics of holding public office for a woman is very different than for a man. However, that should not in any way deter a woman, mother or not, from public service. If we as a society are to answer the questions with which we grapple—questions about education, childcare, health care and equity in the workplace and the economy, not just for women but for all citizens—we must accept that having and raising children is an integral part of the human experience.

The lesson that I learned from this experience, other than the joy of being a mother, was that the future of women in public service depends on our ability to accept women in public life. That acceptance must not be limited to women in retirement, nor women who have not chosen to have children. Perhaps that acceptance must begin with ourselves. Mothers and women of all ages and situations should enter public service without fear. What better way could there be for our children to learn about civic responsibility? What better way could there be for policy-makers to remind themselves that their work is important, not only today, but for coming generations?





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