Shaheen Leads IOP
UPON MEETING new IOP Director Jeanne Shaheen IOP 2003, it becomes clear why she was frequently characterized as a resourceful, can-do politician during her three-term reign as New Hampshire governor. In an interview at her office, Shaheen saves the day by quickly procuring a throat lozenge and glass of water for a Bulletin reporter consumed by a coughing fit. No wonder the press picked up on her resemblance to Betty Crocker — but isn’t that somewhat demeaning?
“We saw it as a positive,” she says, “because one of the challenges that women face when they’re running for office is that some voters view them as threatening. They were essentially saying, here is someone who can do the job, who has ideas, who is strong — but you also want to invite her into your living room for a good talk.”
Born in Missouri, Shaheen moved to Pennsylvania with her family as a young teenager. After graduating from Shippensburg University, she went to work in a Maine lobster pound. There she met her husband, Bill Shaheen, and moved with him to Mississippi in 1970, where she taught in a newly integrated high school. “That was the year that Jimmy Carter was elected governor of Georgia and gave his famous speech about the need to end segregation in the South,” recalls Shaheen. “It made a big impression.”
Several years later, the Shaheens returned to Bill’s home state of New Hampshire and worked on Carter’s presidential campaign, backing him all the way to the White House. “That was really my entree into Democratic politics,” says Shaheen. After serving three terms as a state senator, she ran for governor in 1996 and became the first woman elected to that office in New Hampshire.
Shaheen says she is heartened that the number of women who have served as governor has nearly doubled since she took office. In the last 40 years, she notes, the president has tended to come from the State House, so in that sense there is now a much larger pool of women available to potentially run for the country’s highest office. “I think it’s going to happen,” she says of a female commander in chief.
“It’s just a question of when.”
After John E. Sununu edged Shaheen by a narrow 4 percent margin in the 2002 U.S. Senate race, she took a brief break from politics before John Kerry convinced her in late 2003 to step up as his national chair. Shaheen was credited with giving a much-needed boost to a flagging campaign. “I’ve never worked for anybody who was ahead in the polls when I signed on,” she told The New York Times in January 2004. “So I know what to do.”
Shaheen won’t speculate about her future in politics, but is openly enthusiastic about the energy and idealism of today’s young voters and her current role as IOP director, to foster an interest in public service amongst students. She cites a recent IOP poll in which 93 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 22 said that they believed elected office was an honorable profession.
“That makes me optimistic,” says Shaheen. “I hope we will see the pendulum swing back to the point that people will see we have to work together to solve our challenges.” — JH
What’s the hardest part about having your mom work at the same school where you’re a new grad student? For Stefany Shaheen MPA 2006, daughter of IOP director Jeanne Shaheen, it’s letting people know she’s her own person.
“I’m not here just because she’s here or because I want to run for office because she was in office,” Stefany says. “I had been thinking of grad school for the last few years. I would have done this anyway.”
So what’s the best part of having your mom around? For starters, she has a supportive person she can bounce ideas off. There’s also someone to share the driving when they both head north for the weekend. (Jeanne, living in Kirkland House with the undergraduates, goes to her home in New Hampshire. Stefany goes to her temporary home in Maine.)
Perhaps the very best reason, though, has to do with raising her kids, ages 6, 4, and 18 months (with number four due in the spring).
“Because I have three children at home, I’m always in the ‘mother’ role,” Stefany says. “When I stay overnight with my mother on campus, I can be the daughter again. She doesn’t do my laundry, but she will cook me breakfast.”