Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who celebrates her 25th year in office this year, spoke to a San Francisco crowd Tuesday afternoon about the journey she’s had along the way.
Pelosi was born into a powerful Baltimore political family as the daughter of Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., a Democratic congressman from Maryland and later mayor of Baltimore.
As an Italian-American woman, Pelosi said, “we were to be protected, not to put ourselves out there” in the world of politics in which her father and brother participated.
Pelosi reflected on how her political career began after her children were all grown adults with a promise to her friend Sala Burton, who represented California’s 5th district at the time of her death in 1987.
“I promised her I would run, so I had to win,” because of the pact they shared as two women, Pelosi said.
At the time she began her career, Pelosi estimates there were only about two dozen congresswomen among the 435 voting members in the U.S. House of Representatives.
From day one, she clearly established her priorities and avoided treading lightly because of her gender, Pelosi said, recalling how she concluded her introductory address to the House by emphasizing the importance of combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which was taking a heavy toll on her constituency in San Francisco.
Pelosi later went on to serve as the first female Democratic leader and the first female House leader. Locally, her accomplishments include the transfer of the Presidio and other former military lands to San Francisco and the dismantling of the Embarcadero Freeway after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
Last week, San Francisco officials announced that a street in Golden Gate Park, one that runs past the National AIDS Memorial Grove, had been renamed after Pelosi.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said that Pelosi’s work has been critical in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Looking at the challenges ahead, Pelosi says her work revolves around her belief that the government’s role is to create jobs, educate the people and reduce the deficit.
“Nothing reduces the deficit more than the education of the American people,” she said. “If you want to reduce the deficit, invest in education.”
Congress has been divided over how to pay for subsidies that will keep student interest rates from doubling on July 1, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
Earlier this month, senate Republicans blocked the bill to extend the current loan interest rate, objecting over how the measure is to be funded.
Democrats are proposing doing away with tax breaks for some of the wealthy, while Republicans are proposing taking money from healthcare, which Pelosi argues would still be a hit to the middle class–the group the student loans subsidies are trying to help.
“It cannot come out of the hide of the working people,” Pelosi said of the loan program funding.
Another issue Pelosi emphasized is the need for providing quality childcare to enhance and improve the participation of women in the workforce.
“It is the missing link,” she said. “This has to be a national debate.”
To encourage more women to run for elected offices, Pelosi said she also plans to work to reform the political system to “get rid of money in politics.”
Of the combativeness that exists between members of opposing parties, Pelosi said that elected officials need to find common ground and return to civility.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” she said.
In the days of President George H. W. Bush, Pelosi said that parties respected each other’s views despite differences of opinion.
“This is not the Grand Old Party that we know,” Pelosi said.
“Let’s keep (discussions) on the higher ground of values” not on legislation.