While they’re both female politicians from California, former Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., no longer has a job in Congress, thanks in part to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
But on Thursday night, at the McGowan Forum on Women in Leadership at the National Archives, Bono said it was water under the bridge.
“My daughter, I don’t know if she’s a Republican or Democrat – I don’t think she knows – and she knows that Nancy Pelosi worked very hard to defeat me,” Bono said. But Bono explained that this was all part of the job and that she and Pelosi respected each other as women and as coequals. “I know that my daughter looks up to Nancy Pelosi very much, she believes that she can do anything because Nancy Pelosi did,” Bono said.
Bono was joined at the event by Pelosi and former Reps. Constance Morella, R-Md., and Barbara Kennelly, D-Conn., as well as former Sens. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., and Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark. The group bonded over Congress not being a very female-friendly place.
Bono came to Congress as a widow in 1998, taking over her late husband Sonny Bono’s seat after he died in a skiing accident. She soon discovered there was no women’s gym and no women’s bathroom off the House floor – two problems that since have been remedied. “But I can continue to say it’s not very family friendly,” Bono said. “It used to annoy me that we would have certain holidays, but Halloween wasn’t even a holiday and that’s an important holiday if you’re a mom.”
Pelosi, who was first elected to Congress in 1987, recalled the dinner gatherings she would have in her early years with plenty of male members, but only two other women would attend: Kennelly and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. “Nobody ever asks you, ‘What do you think?’ That would be unthinkable. Everybody just spoke at the same time,” Pelosi recalled. “And one night, they get on the subject of childbirth.”
As the story goes, the women – who had 11 children between the three of them – sat in silence as the men bantered on about being in the waiting room, not being in the waiting room, taking pictures and wearing a green gown. “Never once did it ever occur to them to think, ‘What do you think?’ About childbirth!” Pelosi said.
“They didn’t even have a clue,” she laughed.
All of the lady lawmakers had similar stories. Lincoln, who had young children while in office, recalled a political rival complaining that Lincoln had moved them to Washington with her, so she’d have her family close by. And Moseley Braun, the first African-American woman in the Senate, remembered the first time she wore a pantsuit, not a skirt, on the Senate Floor – a fashion move that created a firestorm. (Clearly, this was before Hillary Clinton’s tenure.)
But all the women, who were brought together for the forum because of Women’s History Month, encouraged others to run for Congress.
“It’s a fantastic time to run for Congress, you can make it work,” Bono said. “I would do it all over again.”