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Excerpt From U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill's Memoir, 'Plenty Ladylike'

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Simon & Schuster
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It's been a long, strange trip for U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill.   

From homecoming queen to state auditor to two-term U.S. senator in one of the most competitive states in the country, the journey has been an uphill battle. 

McCaskill talks about navigating a political world dominated by men in her memoir, Plenty Ladylike

Here's an excerpt from the book, in which she describes the challenges she faced as a female lawyer in the Missouri House of Representatives:

Plenty Ladylike, by Claire McCaskill with Terry Ganey

"In January 1983 I was one of 163 members sworn in to the Missouri House.

How I was treated then had a lot to do with how I looked. It took a while, but I would overcome the “ditzy blonde” stereotype as the only female lawyer, though not the only woman, in the state house.

Lawyers are supposed to have an advantage, since the business of legislating is writing and passing laws. But all of the six male lawyers who were elected with me formed a clique to which I was not invited. They called themselves “the Six-pack.” When my bills came up for consideration the Six-pack gave them special scrutiny: more questions and comments, more objections and proposed amendments. Once when I moved in committee for approval of one of my bills, a motion was made to table it. This was highly unusual—as my mom would say, it was as rare as hen’s teeth. I couldn’t understand what was happening.

Doug Harpool, another attorney, finally came to my office early one morning and said,

'You need to know what is going on. They are plotting against you.'

“You need to know what is going on. They are plotting against you.” He had first noticed their unified effort to use the Civil and Criminal Justice Committee we all served on to slow down my legislation. At first he thought it reflected the attorneys’ deep-seated philosophical positions, but then he suspected that it had less to do with the bill itself than who was sponsoring it. “After a while, I began to sense that there was jealousy developing about Claire and her success,” Harpool said later. “I felt like some of them were intentionally ganging up on her to hold her back. She was a fighter, and I think sometimes they liked to make her fight.”

I cried about this later, but at the time I didn’t let anybody know how upset I was. When I look back on it now, I realize how silly and immature they seemed. But at the time it was hurtful. Still, I didn’t let the Six-pack get in the way of what I was trying to do.

There were ongoing sexual relationships among some members and staff of the Missouri Legislature, often involving married people. But the only man in Jefferson City I had a relationship with while I was a legislator was Harry Hill, a fellow legislator who was also single. Still, people spread rumors and made up stories. There were remarks made to me and about me. Harpool recalled, “These guys would always joke that Claire was sleeping with everybody. They had no basis for any of it. Any woman who was successful, they’d accuse of having slept with somebody.”

Sometimes I ignored it, sometimes I responded, sometimes I cried, and sometimes I tried to turn it into a joke. I had to figure out how to remain friendly and collegial so I could be a successful legislator, but I also had to learn how to avoid being marginalized and treated like a sex object.

Once I had to ask Bob Griffin, the Speaker of the House, for help and advice on how to get my first bill out of committee. 

Once I had to ask Bob Griffin, the Speaker of the House, for help and advice on how to get my first bill out of committee. He was on the dais and laughingly said, 'Well, did you bring your knee pads?'

He was on the dais and laughingly said, “Well, did you bring your knee pads?” I knew he was joking; the problem was that he didn’t realize it was an offensive joke. And that was many times the essence of the problem: Men in Jefferson City did not understand or comprehend how offensive their humor could be.

I wouldn’t have traded my six years in the Missouri General Assembly for anything. I learned so much—about compromise, about the process of government, about how to make allies and how to lay the groundwork and reach out to the right groups. I learned a lot about campaigning too, because I always had an opponent.

But even more important, I realized that speaking truth to power can be survivable and even a lot of fun. I did distinguish myself by being willing to stand up to Bob Griffin, Dick and Bill Webster, Tony Ribaudo, and others. I found that if you are informed and work hard, you can earn credibility. I went from being the young blonde with all the hair to being someone whom the senior members approached when they had questions about criminal legislation.

Recently, even members of the Six-pack have come around, asking me for help in getting federal appointments. And I call all of them friends." 

Excerpt from PLENTY LADYLIKE by Claire McCaskill with Terry Ganey. Copyright © 2015 by Claire McCaskill. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.