The world of politics may not always be hospitable to women, but on Wednesday, Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz ’83 described how she has succeeded in public service through hard work, building on the inspiration of strong female role models.
In a discussion with eight students sponsored by the Yale Pre-Law Society, or YPLS, Bysiewicz talked about how her political career was influenced by the examples of her mother, a lawyer who practiced at a time when private firms refused to hire women, and Connecticut’s first female governor, Ella Grasso.
“I learned from Ella Grasso how difficult it is to be a woman in politics,” Bysiewicz, who wrote a biography on the governor during her senior year in college, said. “You have to be very tough and decisive, and a lot of people have a problem with a woman like that.”
Bysiewicz said that in her own experience there are both advantages and disadvantages to being a woman in public service.
“Voters like to vote for women because they regard them as honest, having integrity, and willing to do their homework,” she said. “The disadvantage is that when men are tough and aggressive, they are termed statesmen, and when women are tough, aggressive and feisty, they are called the B-word.”
Following her mother’s example, Bysiewicz initially pursued a career in law, but when the opportunity came to run for state legislature, she saw her chance to make a difference.
“The more I thought about it, the more I thought, ‘This is something I could do to address all the issues I worry about for my daughter’s future,’” Bysiewicz said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to stop worrying and start doing something about it.’”
In her first election primary, for the 1992 election, Bysiewicz visited every registered Democratic household in the 100th Assembly District, which includes Middletown, Durham and Middlefield. Her hard work paid off, winning her 70 percent of the votes in the primary.
“All I did from May to September was go street by street, house by house, everywhere there was a registered Democrat,” Bysiewicz said. “We really got our message out and energized our voters.”
After three terms in the state legislature, Bysiewicz decided to run for the more significant position of secretary of state.
“To run for statewide office was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and you have to just go for it,” Bysiewicz said. “And the great thing about it is that you don’t do it by yourself. You get friends to help you along the way.”
Today, Bysiewicz’s ambition is focused on the 2006 Connecticut gubernatorial race. She was the first candidate to start an exploratory committee for governor, and she said she has already raised about $500,000 in small donations for a campaign.
YPLS Executive Director of External Affairs Kathy Chen ’05 said she asked Bysiewicz to come speak because she is one of her personal role models.
“I met her at Girls State a couple years back,” Chen said. “She was an inspiration to me as a woman leader, and I think she’s done a lot of great things for the state.”
The students who attended expressed interest in Bysiewicz’s presentation of her professional history and the transition she made from law to politics.
“It was great how she focused on how she entered public service and the aspect of being a female in politics,” YPLS President Sallie Kim ’05 said.
Bysiewicz closed with a word of advice for the assembled students.
“Just take classes and do activities that interest you,” she said. “If you just do what you love, you’ll be successful.”