Welcome to the Commonwealth of the Gestating Governor.
It's been barely a week since Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci was tapped by President Bush to become U.S. ambassador to Canada. Faster than you can say "Ottawa," our very pregnant-with-twins lieutenant governor, Jane Swift, became the focus of a frenzy about gestating and governing, lactating and legislating. By now it sounds as if she's planning to call out the National Guard with her last Lamaze breath and veto bills with a babe at each breast.
As governor soon-to-be, Swift's national photo-op has come with an expanded waistline and a burgeoning conversation on the conflict between high-powered work and family. Pregnant women are used to gratuitous advice, but everyone seems to have an opinion on whether this 35-year-old Republican will be able to govern and mother at the same time.
The chatter runs the gamut from those who insist that you just can't be a good governor and a good mother, to those who decry a double standard: Remember how cute it was when Michigan's Gov. John Engler became the father of triplets?
Dr. Laura Schlessinger, bless her opinionated soul, e-mailed her view that "even when moms are breadwinners, they still have to put the needs of their children over the demands of their career." Others note that Swift's husband is a stay-at-home-for-now-dad, so they ask: "What's the big deal?"
Many men think that Swift -- sassy, smart and inexperienced -- will succeed to the degree that she behaves just like a male governor. Meanwhile, women on either side of the mommy wars are unlikely to judge her a success -- identify with her or even vote for her -- unless she can juggle both jobs.
But the notable part, at least to this long-time traffic cop at the intersection of work and family, is that those who wish Swift well and those who wish her ill all seem to agree on one thing: She and her family have to work this out on their own.
Nobody seems to be asking what it would take if the state and its citizen-bosses really wanted her -- and by extension any of us -- to succeed as a high-powered worker and an involved parent. We rarely ask this question of commonwealths or corporations. But if we did, what would it take for Swift and her husband Charles Hunt, or anyone trying to juggle this load?
For one thing, the 2 4/7 economy seems to have started with politicians on eternal call. But the new president knocks off at dinner. For that matter, the governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, spends his weekends doing commentary for the XFL. Is it really less acceptable to have a governor spend nights and weekends reading "Goodnight Moon"?
As for parental leave, when Prime Minister Tony Blair talked of a "working paternity leave," the British considered him a hero. Can Swift be a heroine? And what of "face time," that artifice by which bosses keep workers in sight? Can the governor be a model for what many of us want -- more telecommuting?
The big issue is, as always, child care and backup child care, and backup for the backup. In the Swift-Hunt family, the governor's spouse has stepped away from his job and paycheck to be at home. But she still stumbled over ethics when aides were asked to baby-sit for their first child.
Some may advise Swift to be wary of identifying too closely with "family issues" or risk being labeled as a "mommy governor." But years ago, when Rep. Pat Schroeder was asked if she was running as a woman, she snapped back, "Do I have a choice?"
When Cellucci is confirmed, Swift will be a mommy and governor. And a pro-business Republican. What better platform on which to make her bipartisan stand and stardom -- in an economy that depends on working parents and a world that depends on raising children. She can be the leader rather than the target of a conversation about family-work policies -- from paid parental leave to public preschool to a sensible workweek.
For a long time, we've dealt with children as if they were private hobbies or expensive choices. You had them, they're your problem. One governor can't change that. But she can begin.
I hate to add another job to the list. Mother of three. Governor of 6 million. And social change agent. But Jane Swift is expecting and we are expecting. A lot.