We know how important a moms perspective is in our government leadership. In 2018, we not only saw a historical moment of women winning their elections but we witnessed a record breaking number of moms who threw their names into the race. Moms have a unique perspective to lend to the government and special skills that come with raising children. If given the support and resources needed to thrive, they can become effective leaders who bring those unique strengths to any decision making table.
In this interview, Genevieve McDonald tells us how she went from being a lobster boat captain to a state Representative of Maine, all while becoming a first time mom to beautiful twin daughters who motivate her to blaze a trail for women everywhere.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am a member of the Maine House of Representatives and serve on the Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources. My district is comprised entirely of islands off the coast of Maine. In addition to serving in the Legislature, I am a lobster boat captain out of Stonington, Maine, and a mom to twin daughters, Evalina & Elise.
What was your “Aha” moment that inspired you to get involved in politics?
I ran because I was asked. The representative who served before me was terming out and asked if I had ever considered running for office. Research shows when women run, they are elected at the same rate as men. The problem is they aren’t asked to run as frequently as men are, so being asked was an important piece of my political story.
How, if at all, did your experiences as a mother and being a lobster boat captain prepare you for a run for office? What aspects of those roles did you take to help you as a candidate and now elected official?
My career as a lobster boat captain and representative on the Maine Lobster Advisory Council initially informed my decision to run. My work facilitating collaboration between stakeholders in the Gulf of Maine as an advocate for the fisheries is what caught the attention of members of government and of my community. It’s an honor to be able to continue that work as a lawmaker, representing my industry and my island district. The focus of much of my work remains centered on marine resources and sustainability.
I didn’t have the perspective of motherhood going into my race. I found out I was pregnant during my campaign, and then a few weeks later discovered we were expecting twins. But once my daughters were born and I took office, I found myself expanding my legislative priorities to include issues that impact Maine families. I introduced legislation to improve school bus safety, and cosponsored legislation to support paid family and medical leave, and to strengthen our school immunization requirements. My experience as a parent has provided me with valuable insight into the challenges my constituents are facing raising a family in our state.
We have many other mothers in our community who fear they can't do both. How do you manage having a family, running a fishing boat, and being a representative? What practical tools and tips did you use that you could share with our community?
I can absolutely relate to concerns about how to balance work and family. When I learned we were having twins, my initial reaction was to withdraw from my race. I am thankful I changed my mind, and that my children will grow up in an amazing community of movers and shakers. Being a working mom with two kids isn’t unusual, I just happen to have an exceptional career and two kids who are the same age.
There are times it isn’t easy. I live 2.5 hours from the Maine State House and spend a lot of time driving. There are events I would like to attend, but I am not willing to sacrifice the time away from my family. There are evenings I wish I could relax at home but have a responsibility to my constituents to attend a meeting. I prioritize what’s important to my family and include my husband in the decision-making process because it’s important to be respectful of your partner’s needs as well.
It takes a village to raise a child and that is especially true to serve in elected office with young children. It’s vital to have a strong support network of caregivers. I am fortunate to have a supportive spouse, a large extended family, and a trustworthy daycare provider.
What advice would you give to the women in our community who are considering a run for office?
Do it! We need more women at the table, we need more women who understand the challenges of parenting, and the perspective that comes with being a working mother. I have found my colleagues and constituents to be tremendously supportive.
I can absolutely relate to concerns about how to balance work and family. When I learned we were having twins, my initial reaction was to withdraw from my race. I am thankful I changed my mind, and that my children will grow up in an amazing community of movers and shakers.
While campaigning, what were some of your biggest challenges and how did you defeat them?
My biggest challenges were having two newborns, and campaigning on un-bridged island communities.
We overcame these hurdles by campaigning as a family. It was challenging! And created some of the best memories of my life. We loaded up our tiny babies in their double stroller, tucked in snug, on the deck of a lobster boat and hit the campaign trail. Other islands we visited by ferry. We rocked newborns in hotel rooms, I knocked on doors in the rain with my husband driving and the girls in car seats in the back, we block-walked in sunny neighborhoods pushing the stroller.
I was concerned how voters would perceive me as a new mom with my family in tow, but the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive. I won my race with 67% of the vote.
On the flip side, what were some major accomplishments or successes you had on the campaign trail, aside from winning, that really bolstered your run?
Midway through the campaign, I received an email that helped put my concerns about how voters were perceiving me to rest:
“You have my vote. You are the FIRST politician to come to my house and shake my hand. Thank you for showing the willingness to meet the ‘real’ people. I appreciate you walking door to door with your husband and children. You are the type of politician I am willing to support.”
I knew at that moment voters recognized my dedication, and found someone they could relate to and support.
I enjoyed campaigning as a family, but must admit, I am looking forward to having more flexibility during my 2020 re-election campaign.
What has been the best part about being an elected official?
The best part about being an elected official has been having access to information and the opportunity to turn that information into action that benefits my constituents. When I ask questions, people answer, promptly and thoroughly. I enjoy having a seat at the table, having a vote, and being able to be effective at addressing the concerns of the people in my district.
What role did the She Should Run Incubator play in your running for office?
She Should Run is the reason I didn’t withdraw from my race. When I found out I was expecting twins, I spent a month reconsidering if I still wanted to run. I’m a Democrat and was enrolled in training through Emerge, but gave up my spot.
But I didn’t leave the She Should Run Incubator community. I continued to follow the aspirations of the women I had been running alongside. Rep. Erin Zwiener, who went on to win her race for the Texas Legislature, messaged me she was pregnant also. I was inspired to stay in my race by the members of the She Should Run Incubator.
There are so many amazing women leaders in history. Who would you consider a role model of yours?
My role model will always be my older sister, Diane.
She taught me to care about the environment, that education opens doors, and that your past does not define your future.