The future of democracy lies the in the next generation of leaders, and in Schar School of Policy and Government associate professor Jennifer Victor’s October 28 webinar, Becoming a Politician: What Do You Need To Know?, she was joined by three guest speakers who offered insights into the makings of someone who desires to hold public office.
The guests: Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D), now a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Schar School; Maryland House Delegate and George Mason University graduate Maricé Morales (Global Affairs, French, ’09); and former Virginia House Delegate David Ramadan (R), who teaches public policy at the Schar School.
The idea: Victor’s aim is to “turn our attention to the younger generation,” she said, and begin the conversation to encourage engagement in the politics that will dictate how our nation is run.
So, what is being a politician really about?
For David Ramadan, being a politician is about upholding the American Dream.
“The building shakes, the bomb goes off. It’s too loud to the point where you don’t hear it—you just feel it,” Ramadan said, recalling his first glimpse into American politics as a 13-year-old in Beirut, Lebanon. “We ran to the windows, and there goes the American embassy in front of our eyes.”
“A few months later I started asking questions. I went back to school and the librarian hands me a copy of the U.S. Constitution. I read it and literally fell in love with the idea called ‘America.’” From there Ramadan set off for New York “at the age of 19, with $2,000 in my pocket, and a dream” to make a difference.
His hard work paid off: Ramadan is now a proud Mason political science alum, a former member of Mason’s Board of Visitors, and a professor at the Schar School, having served four years as a Republican representative in the Virginia House of Delegates as a “way I could serve the country that gave me this American dream I was living.”
“[That’s] why you run for office—you run to serve. If your intention is anything but to serve, then you’re in the wrong job.”
For Maricé Morales, being a politician is about creating a better world.
“A lot of us are motivated to pursue careers in public service because our heart tells us to,” said Morales, the first Latina to serve as a representative in the Maryland House of Delegates.
Morales was a trailblazer early in her 20s, becoming the youngest Latina to serve at the state level in the country, and found through first-hand experiences that there was a severe lack of minority representation inside of the political system.
“I’m going to get real: Running as a woman, running as a millennial, running as a Latina, a daughter of immigrants—it was difficult… I didn’t realize that when I walked into a room I was going to be underestimated and questioned in ways my male peers [were not].”
Morales is now the vice chair of American Legislative Latina Caucus, chair of Violence Against Women subcommittee for the Women’s Legislative Caucus, and member of the executive committee for the National Caucus for Hispanic Legislators, where she continues the push for better representation of the people politics are meant to serve.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how others view you or disregard you or undermine you,” she continued. “If you’re already pursuing a noble cause, and you already see you are someone who has leadership skills, and your heart is in the heart that you’re doing, I’m here to tell you that we need you.”
For Terry McAuliffe, being a politician is about helping others.
“I always wanted to run for office because this is the one area where you can truly help people every single day,” said McAuliffe, who had been captivated by the world of politics throughout his time in college. “Becoming a politician—I don’t think there is a more noble cause.”
McAuliffe was Virginia’s 77th governor, having served on the Democratic National Committee and playing an active role in Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, as well as in Hillary Clinton’s later presidential run. To accent his resume, he is co-author of a published account of his time in politics, titled, What a Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators, and Other Wild Animals.
McAuliffe credits much of his success inside of the political system to a willingness to work with others, especially when there are opposing viewpoints.
“You’re not going to be successful in politics if you keep going in your corners,” McAuliffe explained. “We need to get off these politics when everyone is attacking each other. If your goal is to help people, always keep an open mind and always keep a positive attitude.”
“People want to be with winners not whiners,” he said. “Lay out a positive agenda and talk to people about the issues that matter to them.”