Strong Role Models Led Her to Seek Office
By Krista Rinehart, CSG Toll Fellows Program Director
It is no secret that despite being the largest voting block, women are vastly under-represented in elected office.
That didn’t prove to be too much of a stumbling block for Alaska Rep. Lindsey Holmes. She credits a wealth of strong female role models--primarily her mother--with her decision to run for office.
“My mother was my principle inspiration,” said Holmes.
Her mother was always active in the community while Holmes was growing up.
“She instilled in me a strong sense that a community is what you make it. I saw the difference she made through serving on local boards and commissions and serving as a sounding board for others in public service,” said Holmes.
Her mother died when Holmes was 16. “I think a part of me wanted to carry on her legacy of leaving my state a better place than I found it,” she said.
However, such a positive role model initially wasn’t enough to push Holmes to run for office. In the end, some positive peer pressure also was needed to help her overcome insecurities and fear. Holmes thinks similar uncertainties hold many women back from elected office.
“When I first ran for the state House, I was recruited and talked into it over my objections,” said Holmes. “I kept thinking there must be somebody more experienced than I was. I have found this is common among female politicians and other female leaders. We tend to have to be convinced to run for office or go after the top jobs, rather than come up with the idea ourselves. I think that’s why there are fewer women in elected office than men.”
Self-doubt continued to discourage Holmes early in her political career. Then she took an important stand on her principles; listening to her own conscience was the best guide.
“Early in my legislative service, we had a vote coming up on an issue I strongly disagreed with,” said Holmes. “The bill was widely seen as a populist issue, but I thought it was bad public policy and wanted to vote against it despite colleagues telling me that voting no would be political suicide. I called my father for advice and he asked me ‘Did you go to the capitol to do what’s popular or do what’s right?’”
She voted against the measure—one of few legislators to do so.
“When I got back to my district, I discovered that the only people who were mad at me were those who were confused and thought I had voted the other way. I have never since been nervous to vote my values.”
Since assuming office in 2007, Holmes has worked to improve her leadership skills as she seeks to better serve her constituents. In 2008, she was selected to the Toll Fellows leadership program and has been a member of the Young Elected Officials Network for five years. The network is comprised of 650 progressives who were elected under the age of 35. Holmes was recently one of 200 network members selected for a special visit to the White House that included policy briefings and a reception with the president.
Holmes credits this recent experience with reminding her of the importance of communication in successful governance and leadership. Attendees learned about what the Obama administration is doing, said Holmes, “but probably the biggest take-away for me was how much effort the White House put into encouraging us as state and local leaders to give them feedback.
“It’s easy to sit in your corner of America and complain that Washington isn’t listening. But how often do we actually write to or email the White House’s state liaisons? I know I don’t do that nearly as often as I should. When I’m away from home in our capitol I need to hear from my constituents. In that respect, the president is no different.”
Communication is also key to Holmes personal leadership style.
“My style is to build consensus behind the scenes,” said Holmes. “I try not to blindside people, but to talk to them before issues come to committee or the floor. I find people can be very receptive when they have time to digest the ideas and aren’t hearing new proposals for the first time with television cameras pointed at them.”