weather icon Clear

Nevadan feels Palin kinship

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Heidi Gansert knows what it's like to be a politician and a mom at the same time.

The Nevada Assembly minority leader from Reno knows how it feels to have people whisper about whether you're a good enough mother to your children, what with all the time you spend running for office.

"During my first campaign, one of my opponents questioned whether I could do everything," she said. "It backfired. People knew how committed I am to my community. People knew me and where my heart is."

Gansert, the highest-ranking Republican woman serving in Nevada elected office, sympathizes with her party's vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has faced a barrage of scrutiny into her family life as she has been introduced to the nation over the past week.

"I am extremely impressed with her," Gansert said. "I can see she has it together. She's done so much for her state."

Gansert has four children from 9 to 15 years old. She helps run the 45-member physicians' group in which her husband, an emergency doctor, is a partner. In her spare time, she runs marathons and does triathlons.

This week in St. Paul, where the 45-year-old is a member of Nevada's delegation to the Republican National Convention, she has gotten up early every morning for a six-mile run.

The McCain campaign has been full of outrage over the questions about Palin and her family, saying she has being asked personal things that no male politician would ever be expected to address.

But the one question -- how do you do it all? -- doesn't faze Gansert, whose coolly analytical mien traces to her training as an engineer.

The answer, she said, is "first of all, I have the support of my family -- my husband, my nieces. And then you need to be really well-organized, to get the kids to soccer and swimming and guitar and violin and everything else."

During the 2007 legislative session, she said, "I participated in five carpools. Every Sunday, I would just sit down and go through the list. I live by my calendar."

It's not always possible to do everything, she admits. "I always put my family first," she said. "If I have to cancel something, I will. Our lives are always busy. But in the end, it's worth it. I'm working to effect positive changes in my state for my family and for the future."

Gansert, a Reno native, followed, like Palin, her children into politics. Palin went from the PTA to the city council; Gansert became president of the board at her daughters' school.

She worked on the campaign of former Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval, with whom she went to high school, and once her youngest child had started school full-time, she decided to run for office.

"I didn't have a specific agenda," she said. "I just wanted to contribute."

Running for Assembly in 2004, Gansert faced a three-way Republican primary against two other women in the Reno district once represented by Gov. Jim Gibbons. She pounded the pavement, enlisting her children to walk from door to door asking for votes, and won with 60 percent of the vote.

In her two sessions, she has championed legislation to better identify convicted sex offenders, to make initiative petitions more understandable and to crack down on Internet predators.

She became the Republicans' leader last year after Assemblyman Garn Mabey decided not to run for re-election.

Gansert has watched the furor over Palin and is not surprised or perturbed. She said Palin will rise above it all just by being herself and pursuing her ideals.

"There are always those who want to bring people's personal life into politics, especially at that level," she said. "I understand it. But when I saw her walk out and talk about her passion for government, I was extremely impressed. I was just inspired. It was very moving."

Several women in the Nevada delegation said that having juggled family and career, they identified with Palin and her story.

Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Lowden said she feels a kinship with Palin as a fellow former beauty queen and a fellow "hockey mom."

"I love her," she said. "I say, 'You go, girl!'"

Lowden said she understands where Palin is coming from. "She knows what it's like to get up at three in the morning and take the kids to hockey practice," she said. "She knows what it's like to clean blood from hockey shirts."

"I've been a working mother all my life," businesswoman Sharon Petty of Henderson said. "You have to be very focused, very smart and very organized in everything you do. She clearly is all those things."

Petty said she loves the choice of Palin for the ticket for her qualifications, not just her gender. "She makes people accountable," she said. "She's raised the bar on ethics. She's not a pushover. I don't think she's going to back down on anything."

As for the news that Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, she said, "Almost every family I know has had a situation like that. My mother was the daughter of an unwed mother. You hope you raise them so they don't do something like that, but sometimes they do."

Petty, 64, said she thinks voters will be understanding.

"You can do everything right and still have something like this happen," she said.

Gansert said she thinks Palin will weather the storm of attention. "I think the more scrutiny she gets, the more it helps her because all families have their difficulties," she said. "When people start maligning someone for something so personal, it seems very judgmental, and I don't think that's right to judge people that way."

She will admit to no aspirations for higher office, though her Assembly district is many times the size of the town, Wasilla, of which Palin was mayor two years ago.

But Gansert giggles over something that happened a few months ago, before Palin was nominated, when her youngest child saw her giving a political speech.

"My 9-year-old boy asked me if I was going to run for president," she said. "Children, you know, they don't know the difference."

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com ro 702 387-2919.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.