Running for state House in East Anchorage, there is one thing I hear more than any other: "You're a working mom of two young boys. Why are you running for office now? How are you running for office now?"
As anyone who has been a working parent (or is the grown child of working parents) knows, there is nothing easy about working full time while raising children. It is a constant balancing act to make sure I'm giving my all to my kids, to my husband, to my job and to all the other demands life throws my way. Add in another full time job of running a campaign, and it gets even harder. I typically start my day at 5 a.m. just to try to get everything done.
But some of what makes running for office so challenging are also the reasons I am running in the first place. My two boys are 5 and 7 years old, and they have nothing but pure optimism for the future of the world. The difference between their sweet faces and the sourness we see at the state and national levels is jarring. And the difference between the hard work we need to address this sourness and the work we're currently getting from some of our representatives is maddening.
Our family has been victim to crime in our own driveway, including a stolen van and an impaired driver crashing his car into our yard in the same place my children play. More recently in the news, we've seen how weaknesses in sexual assault and kidnapping laws let offenders off with no jail time. And just the other day, I heard the fear and anger in the voices of my friends whose kids went into lockdown following a shooting in their school parking lot. Meanwhile, on any other day inside the school, just like schools all across Anchorage, there are teachers working without a contract and kids not getting the support they need to reach important learning milestones. I expect more for my family, and for all Alaskans who are working hard to provide the best for their families. And after six months of knocking doors in this campaign, I know my neighbors do, too.
Working families need their voices heard. But it can be hard to attend the community council meeting that happens during family dinner time or soccer practice. That public input forum held in an overcrowded room is a challenging place to breastfeed or entertain a toddler. A campaign schedule fits the life of a professional politician much better than a working professional and mother — a fact that often keeps highly qualified candidates from running for office.
It is time for a change.
We don't need any more representatives whose greatest skill is saying no. We don't need any more representatives who rely on blocking ideas they don't like, instead of offering solutions of their own. We also don't need any more representatives who prioritize the wants of industry over the needs of our kids and communities. We don't need any more representatives who can't work collaboratively toward common goals.
We need someone who can represent our families. Families who don't always agree, but always look out for each other.
This is why I'm running: for my kids, for Alaska's kids, and because, with the right support, I can do better than what we're getting.
But to ensure that working families get the representation we deserve, we need to lower the barriers for working parents to run for office. My campaign is trying to make some inroads here.
For much of the campaign, my sons are along for the ride. They have become pros at going door to door, attending meetings, fundraisers, and public forums, and we've learned the importance of remembering to pack snacks, markers and paper, and changes of clothes. Yesterday as we drove from one event to the next, we talked about regular things like we always do — Halloween costumes, making new friends at school, and when my oldest son (7 years old) will have his first "date" (turns out he was talking about the dried fruit – whew!).
But then there are the times when my husband is working, our friends are busy, and the boys can't join me. Finding child care, which can be expensive and hard to come by, becomes a necessity.
These experiences highlight that participating in democracy isn't free — that it comes with invisible costs that can effectively price out working families in terms of both time and money. That's not how this should work.
My campaign is committed to opening the door wide to broad participation. Children are invited to all of our events, and we try to make it fun for them and their parents. I bring my boys with me to meetings and door knocking whenever possible, because I know it can help create a new normal.
And, my campaign has decided to use a small portion of our campaign funds to pay for child care while I am campaigning and my husband is working.
The Federal Election Commission ruled in May that "campaign funds may be used to pay for a candidate's childcare expenses that are incurred as a direct result of campaign activity," but the Alaska Public Offices Commission has yet to rule on the legality of this decision.
Child care is a necessary campaign cost for me and many other parents who want to serve their community while having children. I hope that Alaska will make this crucial step forward to ease the burden of working moms and dads running for office.
Being a working parent should not be an eliminating factor in running for office. We need to do more to advocate for working families, and that means we need more representatives from working families in Juneau. We need to think about ways to ensure working families have the support they need to lead and participate.
It's time to level the playing field for working families running for office, so that we can represent ourselves in Juneau to advocate for the policies we need.
This is just the first step.
Liz Snyder, an Anchorage resident, is running as the Democratic Party candidate in House District 27.
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