Who is that Janet Stewart anyway?
I guess at this point in my life, I would describe myself as a “Nebraska Democratic Party personality.” I am 65 years old and mostly retired from my profession and politics. I am married, the mother of a 40 year old son and we have 4 grandsons. I have just one sibling, a sister 4 years younger who lives and works in Florida. She has one daughter who also lives in Florida. I am now the proud Great Aunt of 2 adorable identical twin girls who are approaching their 1st birthday.
I have two 3 ½ year old Lhasa Apso doggies named Sam and Sid. I suspect I will be posting lots of family pictures.
I am a child of the 1950s, a native Nebraskan who spent my early childhood in Blair. During my early childhood, my Father owned a small Radio & TV repair business. My parents moved to Omaha in 1963 and I became a “SOG” or South Omaha Girl. I have now lived in Fremont with my husband Richard Register for the past 23 years. This Eastern Nebraska environment greatly influenced my personality and perspective.
Over the years, I came to value what I perceived to be the strength and strong values of Nebraskans. I like to think I am thoughtful and independent in my views. I am also proud of my persistence. I worked very hard over the past 40 years to complete my education, raise my child, and pursue a challenging career. My first grownup job was in state government. Insurance claims and litigation was then the focus of a corporate law practice for the almost 27 years. I have degrees in Economics, Law and Social Work. I thought my academic background and life experience would give me a broad background from which to tackle important work in politics. In retrospect, this view was pretty naïve.
I ran in three races for political office over the past decade. I was a Congressional candidate in 2004, and pursued Nebraska statewide offices in 2010 (Secretary of State) and 2014 (Attorney General.) My community service over the past two decades has been primarily in the fields of child welfare, domestic abuse and mediation.
As I travel throughout Nebraska speaking with people, the most common question I am asked is why I decided to run for office. Most politicians get this question. I invested a decade of my life and campaigned not once, not twice, but 3 times. I have to tell a bit about my family history to begin to answer this question. My parents Harold and Elaine Stewart were married at the end of my father’s service in the army during World War II. Elaine was a very bright woman who passed on a college scholarship to start a clerical office job in Washington, DC. She found her 1940s working and social life very rewarding. Once my Father was discharged and they returned to Nebraska, a decision was made that Elaine would stay home and raise a family. Society did not fully value or fairly compensate the important work our mothers did in the home. While my mother fulfilled her role, even as a child I sensed that she had some regrets about the independence and tangible rewards she lost along the way.
1950’s Mom and Me.
I am part of a generation of women who have seen our traditional roles change in very significant ways. I believe this experience is the greatest strength of my public engagement. The evolution in my own development gave me a different perspective from career politicians and government bureaucracies currently dominating the political scene.
I spent my entire adult life competing in fields that males traditionally dominate. I learned how to survive on my own terms. My experience was that as more women entered my fields, cultural beliefs and the rules of engagement evolved in mostly positive ways. I strongly believe government and our traditional political party system have benefited and will continue to benefit from this type of change. Our political institutions could have a broader perspective more representative of our nation. The reason I ran for political office was really because I thought “it’s time.” I was eager to put my education, training and life experience to work. I wanted to honor the contribution of our mothers and grandmothers, helping make their dreams of equality and a better society a reality.
I believed voters would be ready to support a qualified woman candidate for higher office. I still believe this and we have seen some recent validation of this premise. For a number of reasons my own campaigns crashed and burned. Sharing some of this “Herstory” might be interesting and certainly could be a productive process for me. At least I hope so. My goal will be to share my personal journey and reflections with as much honesty, kindess and empathy as I can. One of my middle aged priorities is to promote manners. The importance of good manners was stressed by my Mother throughout the 1950s and 1960s. I did not always heed Elaine’s advice at the time. Now it honestly perplexes me that, as a society, we do not optimize the use of these social tools that cost nothing and make such a difference.
My personal political agenda can be charted somewhere on the feminist scale. I understand that the Democratic Party might have a demographic advantage in some elections if we could persuade more Nebraska women to vote. I did not come upon this understanding myself, but from reading a lot of research and campaign plans of groups focusing on women voters, e.g., The Voter Participation Center’s Women’s Voice Women’s Vote. Current voter registration in Nebraska reflects close to a majority of Republicans. A Democratic candidate could still win with support from Non-Partisan voters and some Republicans. A lot of Republicans tell me they “vote for the person, not the party.” I really do not know how true this is or ever was, but I do know a number of Nebraskans who espouse this old chestnut. In many ways, I believe the Nebraska Democratic Party, and its various constituencies, have forgotten how to nurture and build the coalitions needed to win in the 21st Century. I do not have all the answers, but I have reengineered a slogan: “If it’s broken, why not at least try to fix it?”
I met a lot of people on the campaign trail who are discouraged or angered by politics. My answer has always been that if we want our democratic society to work we must share the responsibility. Finding fault and opting out of the political system will never get us where we need to be. No elected official or political party will solve the challenges that face us as a nation. I do think respecting and helping one another would be a good place to start. What if we actively participate by voting, support candidates we believe in and hold our elected representatives accountable for the choices they make on our behalf? Could we then see a country work so much better in my lifetime? That’s why I am writing this blog. Along the way, I hope you will share your own hopes for the future. I happen to be a professionally trained listener. I am also an aspiring senior citizen social media maven. You can find me on Twitter @fremontdiva and my Pinterest Boards pull together a pretty complete picture of who I am and what is important to me. Over the past decade, I have rebranded myself as “the Fremont Diva,” a story for another blog or two. I will get into the “Conciliation” piece of this project in due course. I do intend to talk about tolerance, respect, shared interests and patience.
Today I am just introducing myself as that Janet Stewart and this is my project.