Anna Eshoo has served California’s 14th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1993, being re-elected for successive terms without serious opposition. Before going to Congress, Anna was a member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors for 10 years. In the House, she’s been on the Energy and Commerce Committee since 1995 and is Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. She’s lived on the Peninsula for almost 40 years and raised her two children here. We used that topic as a starting point when we sat down to talk with her at her District office in Palo Alto.
InMenlo: Knowing you were raised on the East Coast, how did you land here on the Peninsula?
Eshoo: My mother was a San Franciscan. After I married, our first home was in Redwood City. We moved to Atherton to be closer to the Sacred Heart schools. I lived there for almost 40 years, and when I decided to sell the family home, I moved 5/10s of a mile away to Menlo Park.
These are the communities that I love and enjoy. It’s important to me to remain here. I think of all the friends that I’ve made through my children as well as the nuns at Sacred Heart. This is my community.
InMenlo: What motivated you to get into politics?
Eshoo: My mother and father talked to us about the importance of responsibility to the community and to the country. Neither of them aspired to appointed or elected office. My father was a successful jeweler in Connecticut. My mother was always involved in our parish and in our community. Their example spoke the loudest — they didn’t preach to us, but they set a powerful example.
When I was a kid, going into politics wasn’t on my radar at all. We didn’t have women role models. You could be a nurse, teacher or enter the convent. But there’s no doubt that John Kennedy inspired a whole new generation. His call for service to the country had a profound effect on me.
Those were the seeds and one thing lead to another. I’d been active in the community and non-profit organizations and was then elected to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in 1982. I loved getting up in the morning and going to work. Happily the office was close to my home, so it was doable along with family duties.
InMenlo: Looking back, what in your life most prepared your to serve in Congress?
Eshoo: I don’t think there is one thing that prepares you for what you do in life. Certainly the values that my parents instilled in me played a part. They were my first teachers. God blessed me with parents of great integrity and faith.
Faith plays a great role in my life and helps me make sense of what I do. I fall short because I’m human — but meditation and prayer are essential to me. Just as we might enjoy a wonderful meal, the soul needs nourishing. Faith is a gift – but I’m no angel!
I also believe the the experience I gained on the Board of Supervisors served as great preparation. In that position you cover every issue except foreign policy. Plus, in country government you are not just dealing with formulas. You encounter a variety of issues and must deal with them first hand.
InMenlo: What’s the most difficult voting decision you made?
Eshoo: Definitely the impeachment vote. People were really torn apart not only about what had occurred but what was subsequently happening. I voted against impeachment after spending a considerable time with constitutional historians so that I could fully understand how the framers had shaped that particular part of the Constitution. They wanted the Constitutional language to reflect an American not British view. I’m forever grateful to the constitutional scholars who came to meet with members of Congress and glad that I took advantage of the opportunity to really learn from them.
InMenlo: You’ve been a public figure for 30 plus years. Given that, what would most surprise your constituents about you?
Eshoo: Maybe it would be that, as a member of Congress, I don’t have scores of people waiting on me. I do my own cleaning and grocery shopping and weed the garden. People always seem surprised to see me at the supermarket.
I think people are also surprised that we don’t have special planes that whisk us back and forth. They don’t believe we have to stand in airport lines just like everybody else.
I really relish the normal day-to-day things because I draw a great deal of satisfaction from them. If my furniture looks good, it’s instant gratification. Legislation is not instantaneous. You labor for decades to get things done.
InMenlo: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what kinds of things would sustain you?
I would want books with me. One real treasure is Journal of a Soul written by Pope John XXIII. I go back and reread that book.
I would like to have Thomas Jefferson there in person because I have a lot of questions for him. Eleanor Roosevelt, too, for the same reason — lots I’d like to ask her.
In the movie category, I could watch Moonstruck once a week for the rest of my life. It’s serious and funny. I also like Two for the Road with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney.
For music, I’d want lots of Rachmaninoff plus some Edith Piaf and Frank Sinatra. Plus that great rock and roll music from the 60s that made us dance our back sides off!
(Note: On the topic of the possible redistricting that would split Menlo Park into two Congressional districts, the Representative’s office “had no comment about restricting because the maps are not final yet.”)
Photo by Scott R. Kline