Video: Mom goes to Congress: Mikie Sherrill shares balancing act with Morris Chamber

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.), fourth from right on top, is cheered at Women in Business luncheon of the Morris County Chamber of Commerce, Oct. 4, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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If you’re curious how Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.) feels about impeaching  President Trump, you’ll have to tune into 60 Minutes this Sunday.

The topic was off the table when the freshman Congresswoman addressed Friday’s Women in Business luncheon of the Morris County Chamber of Commerce, per the organizers’ wishes, and Sherrill did not field questions from the media.

But the Navy veteran and former federal prosecutor shared some insights about balancing motherhood and public service with emcee Mary Dougherty and a big audience at the Westin Governor Morris in Morristown.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.) makes a point to the Morris Chamber of Commerce, Oct. 4, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“I’m sure I’m speaking to the choir when I tell you that you never really figure out how to balance things,” Sherrill said, to knowing laughter. “I’ve never really cracked that code…it’s a constant work-in-progress.”

Sherrill said she feels honored to serve in the most diverse freshman class in congressional history, alongside women who include former CIA officers, a Teacher of the Year, a chemical engineer, a pediatrician and, “sadly, a mother who lost her son to gun violence.

“Many of these women, like myself, did not see themselves running for Congress,” she said, citing her mom, who now helps out in her congressional office, as a role model.

As a Siemens contractor to the Air Force, Sherrill’s mother was thrust into a male-dominated world. But that wasn’t her toughest challenge.

“She went back to work when I was 11 years old. And full disclosure: I was horrible about it! I cheerfully told her stories of latchkey children,” recounted Sherrill, a mother of four.

Video: Rep. Mikie Sherrill talks about juggling parenting and politics

Sherrill acknowledged feeling “completely overwhelmed” on maternity leave, at various jobs, and now as a commuter between Montclair and Washington DC.

What’s nice, Sherrill said, to more laughter, “is my husband has been dragged into some of the kids’ activities more, and so I feel like now we have more to talk about.”

She is married to former classmate Jason Hedberg, who served as a Naval intelligence officer.

“I think in the past, it was like, you know, ‘Just sign them up and get a carpool.’ I felt a little underappreciated at times.

“But I got a text when I was down in Washington last week from my husband: ‘We need to talk. This soccer schedule is ridiculous.'”

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.), left, fields a question from emcee Mary Dougherty, co-founder of the Morristown Women in Business, Oct. 4, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Sherrill expressed some anxiety about her eldest child’s entry into high school next year. She brought her kids to the Capitol over the summer to experience life there.

“I think somebody gave me the advice early on that if you’re going to run for Congress, try to bring in your family as much as possible, try to get them as engaged as possible.”

That’s a fine line, she said.

“I don’t want to make my kids miserable all weekend going canvassing. But I do want them exposed to it, I do want them to feel like they’re part of it.

“And I’ll tell you, I would love to imbue in them a sense of responsibility to our country. That doesn’t mean I anticipate they’ll ever run for anything. But just get involved in other people’s campaigns, if they’re not running. They should just know who’s running for town council, and knock on doors and just make sure they’re part of the democracy. And that’s something I would like them to see me model.”

Guests listen to Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.) at Morris County Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Luncheon, Oct. 4, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Inspired by a grandfather who served as a World War II pilot, Sherrill knew from a young age that she wanted to fly. She piloted helicopters in the Navy.

As a midshipman, she did a brief stint aboard an aircraft carrier where she said she was the lone female among 5,500 sailors.

“I remember my mom saying, ‘Don’t get on that ship!'”

Sherrill answered: “Mom, they’re called orders for a reason.”

Luckily, Sherrill said, it turned out fine. And not just because she toughed it out with men.

“We had people that were from every state in the nation, and (you learned) to really build connections with people from very different backgrounds. I think this has been a wonderful life skill.

“And it’s something that I worry a little bit about in our country now. We don’t have a universal draft. We have a lot of people that seem to only build relationships with people that are like them,” often via social media, she said.

Other places can learn from the 11th District, and from New Jersey, Sherrill suggested.

As the country’s most densely populated state, “we can’t be very insular. We have people in New Jersey from all different backgrounds, from all over the world.”

When she worked in the U.S. Attorney’s office, Sherrill said, her boss marveled at the comparatively few hate crimes in the Garden State, and how “we all kind of learn to navigate this with each other.

“And I think it’s an important lesson for the nation.”

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.) and emcee Mary Dougherty do a Q & A at Morris Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Morristown, Oct. 4, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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