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About Lois Capps …

A Son Comes to Understand His Mother and Politics


If you recognize the name Lois Capps, it probably evokes a politics-based reaction of one kind or another. From admiration to contempt, I’ve heard and seen all kinds of reactions for more than a few years now, and I have grown to embrace the reality that emotionally charged partisan politics is par for the course in our community and across America. Whether I think the trend toward increasingly polarizing rancor between parties is healthy for our democracy is another issue, but I understand that people feel passionately about their beliefs, and that party affiliation and political ideology can be central to one’s sense of identity.

But for me, behind the campaign ads, flyers, bumper stickers, lawn signs, letters to the editor, events, conversations in the checkout line, and online jabs, the name Lois Capps remains something much more significant: my mom.

To experience first one then both of my parents plunged into national politics and the public eye seemingly overnight has been surreal. Yesterday my mom was a school nurse, today she’s a lightning rod for whatever storm happens to be passing over Washington, D.C. Suddenly everyone around you feels the need to talk politics — tell you their opinion on a particular issue or political figure, or just plain let you know what they think of your mother. There is a reason “your mama” jokes have endured, and it is because they toy painfully with the sacred. On the one hand, it’s just rough-and-tumble politics. On the other hand, I came from her womb. It took me more than a few years to hold both of those truths in balance and grow a much thicker skin.

While there is generally an assumption that she and I must agree on every political issue, thankfully that is often (but not always) the case. I say “thankfully” with gratitude for the fact that we have both grown to appreciate the numerous frank conversations we’ve had over the years, during which occasionally differing perspectives are shared with curiosity and deep mutual respect. In fact, it is largely from these chats that I’ve become much more aware of the need to restore the American conversation back from the volley of sound bites and finger-pointing that now pass for political discourse. As the daughter of a Lutheran pastor and church choir director, my mom was raised in a household dedicated to the service of one’s neighbor. Her commitment to the concepts of charity and moral duty have always been so integral a part of her approach to life that I sometimes resented it as a young kid looking for a “pass” on a commitment I’d made (voluntarily or otherwise), an easy way out of a particular challenge, or to cut corners. I was taught that pride was a perilous attitude. Sanctimony, along with vanity and prestige, are concepts that make my mom viscerally uncomfortable, and ones that stand in distinct contrast to her core motivation.

This brings me to my point in writing this letter. As her son, if there is one truth I can share about my mom, and one corresponding hope I have for her campaign this season. It is for people to know as much as I know, simply this: Lois Capps is guided solely by a profound sense of obligation to do the right thing. She always has, in everything she does — even at the expense of her own well-being. You may or may not agree with her politics, but I can assure you that she seeks nothing more than to stand up for and act in service to what she believes will better the lives of her constituents, the community, the country, and the health of the planet. That’s it. And it is almost bizarre how true that is, especially in contrast to the justified scorn many other elected officials receive for their blatant ulterior motives and proactive deception.

I am grateful that so many friends and supporters recognize the sincerity of the woman behind the name. So when I read allegations that Lois Capps is motivated by some kind of personal gain, I can’t help but laugh and wish that it would sometimes be the case, for the sake of her own comfort and happiness. The relentless lifestyle she has taken on, under constant public scrutiny, is not a route any sane person seeking personal profit would choose. But far beyond that, selfish aspiration couldn’t be a more opposite trait from who she is as a human being. Her life would probably be much easier if it were. And I no longer fume when I see or hear her name bashed with vitriol. Instead, I feel sorry for the ignorance behind it, and for the current course of our country toward acceptance of a political system that demonizes anyone with a different point of view. What benefit does that serve? When has keeping our focus and passion directed at the issues, and constructive problem-solving based on shared interest, not yielded the most effective outcomes?

This son is proud of his mom, not based on her political views or for winning elections. I am proud of my mom for staying true to herself through it all, and for a lifetime of undiluted dedication to serving others.

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