WASHINGTON — The name Janet Napolitano often conjures up thoughts of TSA screeners and terror plots, but the secretary of Homeland Security reminded a crowd at the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) on Wednesday that she is still a woman.
Napolitano reflected on her own experiences as a woman in politics and lamented the low percentage of females in public office today.
“We have women in leadership throughout the Department of Homeland Security — it’s really an unusual security department in that regard,” she said at CAP’s Women’s Leadership Series event. “But in terms of political life, not many women are there — particularly as a percentage of population. Not many women are in the Congress, in the Senate, and you have to ask yourself, why?”
According to the DHS head, the major obstacles to women entering elected office are the encroachments on their privacy and their family.
“The real factor was, women didn’t choose to run, and they didn’t choose to run based, in part, because of the impact on their privacy — impact perhaps on their family lives and the like,” Napolitano said.
The agency chief showed her feminine side to the friendly audience, offering details of her past political experiences, including an anecdote about the lengthy amount of time it took her 2002 Republican Arizona gubernatorial opponent, Matt Salmon, to concede as the state counted mail-in ballots.
While waiting for he inevitable, she said, she enjoyed a spa weekend.
“He didn’t concede, and Thursday he didn’t concede. But here was the problem,” she explained. ”The problem was myself and some friends had made reservations to go to a spa the weekend after the election to kind of, you know, recover. After a year of campaigning you really want — you really need that.”
The DHS secretary described her reaction in the spa hotel room that Sunday morning when she heard that her opponent would soon concede.
“I was in one of these really deep REM-type sleeps and it’s totally dark and the phone rings. And this gentleman’s voice is on the other end and it says, ‘Good morning, governor — this is your wake up call.’ And that’s how I knew he was getting ready to concede. And of course I had the very polite and official response: ‘Oh shit!’” she said with a laugh.
Napolitano explained that she was the first woman to ever succeed another woman as governor of a state and noted that western states have a “strong track record” of women in leadership.