How did you become interested in government?
I initially became interested because my father served in public office. He was elected to the Louisiana Legislature when I was five years old and I have very vivid memories of that time and of his campaign. Because of that, I've always been familiar with elections and the responsibilities of public office.
However, I really didn't become interested in pursuing public service until I graduated from college and went to volunteer for a friend who was running a citywide campaign for judge. It was during that campaign that some friends of mine suggested that I might run myself. I had never really thought of running for public office. To be honest, I thought I might marry someone that would run for public office - because at the time, in the -60s and -70s when I was growing up, there weren't that many women in public office.
But as it turned out, I ended up running for office myself. I was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives when I was 23-years-old and I continue my public service to this day in the United States Senate. But it was a step-by-step process. I'm glad that I took the steps because being in public office is a great way to help people, help the state, and help the nation.
What advice would you give young people interested in public service?
First of all, I would encourage all young people to consider public service opportunities. There are some wonderful rewards, whether you're in elective or appointed office. You can have a tremendous impact on writing, executing, or carrying out laws and work on the education system, health care programs, or environmental issues - it's quite exciting. There are great opportunities to meet people, travel, and become engaged in cutting edge issues, whether it's at the local, state, or national level.
I would encourage young people to become active in extracurricular activities. Young people at all ages, in elementary and second school and on to college, can develop their leadership skills through extracurricular activities. Sports, for example, offers excellent leadership opportunities. I'd certainly encourage young people to stay in school and graduate with at least a college degree. For those who are interested in holding an elective position, having a masters degree in business administration or law can be useful.
Just being knowledgeable about the government process is beneficial; civics and social studies are very important. Our government is made up of a representative group of all of our population. Having elected officials with degrees in medicine or teaching can be very valuable - all those experiences are important. Someone who is a nurse before she or he runs for office will bring to the process a unique point of view. What is most important is developing leadership skills and understanding of the way government operates.
What are some of the challenges of being a woman Senator?
I think that even today, the public is not quite as comfortable with female leaders as they are with male leaders. It is still a challenge for women to communicate that they are competent and able to do the job. There have been only a few women who have served as governor or senator relative to the number of men who have been elected to these positions. In the United States Senate, there have been only 35 women who have ever served out of approximately 1,850 individuals - a very small percentage. Likewise, there are very few women running large corporations, although that is changing - thanks, in part, to some of the new Internet startup companies.
The challenge for women seeking leadership positions in the public is to communicate that you're competent and able to do the job. So you've got to work a little harder in order to be successful.
Who are your heroes?
I've had many different heroes throughout my lifetime. My father and mother have always been tremendous role models for me. In addition, both of my grandmothers, and particularly my father's mother, Loretta Landrieu, whom I am named after, had a great influence on my life.
As a young girl I can remember reading many books about women like Clara Barton, Annie Oakley, Sojourner Truth, Betsy Ross and Amelia Earhart - women from history who contributed a great deal to society and had a great impact on the world. And I can remember being inspired and impressed by these women because when I was growing up, the world seemed to be very male-oriented and male-dominated. Even as a young girl, I liked to read as much I could about women who had been successful. Different aspects of their biographies and autobiographies taught me that women could accomplish great things, that they could be leaders and make a difference - not only on their families and through the men in their life, but directly. And that's what I had in my mind to do.
How do you spend your time when you're not in the Senate?
I spend a lot of time with my husband and children. We're a very close family. I have two children: a daughter and a son. We've been camping and hiking, we like swimming. In Washington on the weekends, we do a lot of bike riding and during the summer, we spend a lot of time in our camp on Lake Pontchartrain. I'd love to do more horseback riding, which is one of my favorite sports, but I just don't get that much time to do it.
What are some of your favorite books for children?
When I was growing up, I enjoyed reading the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is a wonderful book. I was very interested in mystery and adventure books because to me, that's what life is about: adventure.