Although she was born into a powerful Baltimore political family, Nancy Pelosi, who has represented San Francisco in Congress for the past quarter century, once believed she’d never run for office.
“I had no interest in running for political office, ever,” said Pelosi, whose father was a congressman from Maryland. “I thought, ‘I’ll go for the normal life.’”
But 25 years ago, when Rep. Sala Burton, was dying of cancer, the congresswoman who represented San Francisco asked Pelosi, her campaign chairwoman, to be her successor.
“In a few weeks, Sala passed away and the election was upon us,” Pelosi said at an event organized Tuesday by the Commonwealth Club to commemorate her 25 years in Congress. “A woman asking a woman to run was not the path, because there hadn’t been that many.”
Pelosi joined fewer than two dozen women in the House of Representatives when she arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1987. Today, she is one of the most powerful members of Congress, a leader of the Democratic caucus who served as the first female Speaker of the House from 2007 to 2011.
In an interview with Commonwealth Club President Gloria Duffy, Pelosi reminisced about her years in Congress, during which she has become a symbol of the values most San Franciscans hold dear -- values which have not always been popular in the rest of the country.
In the 1980s, when Washington politicians were hesitant to discuss the AIDS epidemic, Pelosi advocated for funding for research and prevention.
“It was a different time,” she said. “But we in San Francisco were having multiple funerals in a day.”
Pelosi also helped push President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act through a divided Congress in 2009. While the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a challenge to that law, Pelosi said that she was confident it would be upheld.
“We believe that this bill, constitutionally, is iron-clad,” she said.
Pelosi is expected to sail to re-election, but she is also raising money to help Democrats win 25 House seats, enough to put them in the majority. She had harsh words for her Republican colleagues, whom she said were opposed to a federal role in healthcare, job creation, environmental protection and education.
“Should it be a question that the government has an imperative to be a job creator?” she said. “Is it imperative to educate the American people and not call someone a snob if they want to go to college? … I don’t think there’s anything partisan about that. Do you?”