Maria Shriver's Poverty Crusade Is a Lot Like Dad's

The Shriver Report on women and poverty came out this month.

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Maria Shriver attends The Hollywood Reporter's celebration of power 100 women in entertainment breakfast on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Maria Shriver recalled her father's involvement in President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty during a discussion sponsored by The Atlantic Wednesday.

Poverty is a second generation passion for Maria Shriver.

California's former first lady and the NBC News veteran this month released The Shriver Report, a two-years-in-the-making investigation on women and poverty. On Wednesday, she came to Washington for a full day of discussion, courtesy of The Atlantic, and reminded audiences that her dad, the late Sargent Shriver, worked to solve poverty too.

Sargent Shriver was tasked to lead the War on Poverty, an initiative President Lyndon B. Johnson announced 50 years ago this month. The way LBJ asked Sargent Shriver was a creative one, Maria Shriver reminded the crowd.

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"He called up daddy and said, 'you're going to lead the War on Poverty,' and my father was like, 'What is that? Wait a minute, I need to go home and talk to my family,'" Maria Shriver said. "And he said, 'don't you have any balls? You're just going to say yes and get going,'" she said, quoting LBJ.

It didn't take the same kind of arm-twisting for Maria Shriver to get involved in the cause. But it did take something else. "So, this report took a lot of balls too, from one generation to another," she said to laughs.

Shriver talked about how the report was a piece of journalism and how she hoped it would be persuasive to all sides of the aisle. She, herself, served as a Democratic first lady in a Republican administration, when her now not-quite-ex-husband Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of California. "Which is complicated," she admitted.

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But bipartisanship goes back to her roots. "I remember, as a child, saying, 'why do I see those people on TV yelling at you, daddy, and they're here for dinner?'" she recalled, calling the experience "rather odd." But that was the norm in the Shriver household. "Our house was a melting pot. We had journalists and faith leaders and economic people and monks and priests and nuns and people with disabilities and convicts, and they were all in there and it was wild," she said. "But out of it came great creativity, great understanding –my parents, in their home, built the kind of culture that I'm talking about."

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