Heidi Heitkamp

Heidi Heitkamp

Heidi Heitkamp, Senator from North Dakota

“I remember watching the presidential primaries in 1968. I was in the eighth grade. That's the first time that I remember really paying attention. I think it was a combination of the insecurity that we all felt about the Vietnam War and about race relations in general. It was a time of a lot of turmoil and a lot of discussion. My dad's a World War II vet, and you see it through the lens of your parents, but you also appreciate what's happening in your peer group. I remember watching the California primary results and how I felt when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. I'd been so young when JFK was killed, but RFK's death had a profound effect, especially coming just three months after Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. I was interested in what we could do, how the country was going to progress from there.”

“I was always interested in public policy. I never thought I would be in an elected position. I always thought I would be the staff person, the campaign manager, whatever it might be. Kent Conrad, who was a senator from North Dakota whose seat I have now, became a really good friend and a mentor. I went to work for him. He really encouraged me to think about running for public office.”

“I first ran for state auditor when I was 28. I ran that race because I had been encouraging women to step up and get on the ballot. It was what I think of as the first "Year of the Woman." Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro [as his vice president]. We had a woman who was running for lieutenant governor [in North Dakota], and I thought it was important that women at least offered themselves up for public service. I didn't win, but then, when Kent was elected to the Senate, the governor appointed me tax commissioner. Then that began my successful electoral career until 2000, when I ran a race for governor and lost. I was diagnosed that September with stage-three breast cancer. That didn't help.”

“We finished out that campaign, and I didn't think I would ever go back into elected politics. But in 2010, I saw those elections and thought, We're once again ripping the country apart. There are commonalities, and there are things that we can get done, even though we disagree. It was really my belief that we needed to bring people who had a different perspective. We're not so entrenched in the kind of political culture of Washington, D.C., to try and interject some common sense and some movement forward. I ran in 2012. No one thought I was going to win. Nate Silver gave me an 8 percent chance of winning, but I was successful.”

“I always tell people: when you looked at the markers in my cancer, I had a 29 percent chance of living ten years. I had an 8 percent chance of being in the Senate. I'm a living example that if you just get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other, sometimes you can change outcomes.” 

Lenny, Photograph via Alchetron

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