Former Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift has always been a trailblazing overachiever in Massachusetts since her twenties; a prime example of how a Republican woman in a Democratic state can succeed in a career field still dominated by men, for now.
Most twenty-five-year-old women don't become state senators. Few claim the title "youngest governor in America", as Swift once did at thirty-six. Only two women in American history have ever given birth while serving as their states chief executive. Jane Swift was the first - to twins no less, in 2001. Swift made Sarah Palin's fifth pregnancy in 2008 at age forty-five a virtual non-issue. None of this ever fit in to Jane Swift's plan for her own life. And if there was a plan, it clearly went the opposite direction.
My fascination with Governor Jane Swift runs deep. Her story has always interested me, even fifteen years since she left office. I wrote to her as a teen when she left office in 2003. She replied personally in her own hand (along with a pair of cufflinks with the Massachusetts seal from when she was governor). She's humble. She's highly intelligent. She's not a self-promoter by any means. There's something about her which draws respect, because she has earned it.
Life was thrown upside down for the young mother in April 2001 when President George W. Bush appointed the late Paul Cellucci, then-governor, to be U.S. Ambassador to Canada. Enter Swift, then-lieutenant governor.
Replaced by Mitt Romney as governor in 2003, she seemed perplexed by her predecessor, who ultimately become the Republican nominee for president in 2012.
"I didn't get very close to him...he is a bit of an enigma to me," Swift recalled, now age 53.
Education Advisor to the late John McCain in 2008, she was an ardent Jeb Bush supporter in 2016. She even went to Iowa to assist Bush. But her feelings on President Trump are more deliberate.
"Trump has no political philosophy. He has a brand and a shtick."
Swift also took note of the significant impact women are having on this years election.
"...this election cycle looks like it might actually be an advantage or at least not a disadvantage to be a woman exercising executive leadership, but I hope that is sustained progress and not [a] one-time reaction to current events."
By today's standard, Jane Swift is an obvious outsider in the Republican Party of Trump. She openly backed same-sex marriage (even signing on to a Republican brief in support to the U.S. Supreme Court; and she chose her 2003 running mate, the first openly-gay person to run for lieutenant governor in any state); and she believes in a woman's right to choose.
But as mother to three young girls and the only female to ever be governor of Massachusetts, on the day of 11 September 2001, Jane Swift did not expect to be at the epicenter of what was the most notorious act of terrorism on American soil. In 2016, I asked about her mindset that day, which helped inspire me to want to write this.
"Completely flummoxed. Felt very uncertain. Not a lot of information was getting to us from the Feds."
In the end, her handling of the crisis was praised by the media, the same group which turned on her as time progressed. She said she "relied on great professionals in public safety, and more than a few prayers."
Nothing about Jane Swift is weak. She is arguably one of the most underrated and underestimated figures in Massachusetts politics. But Swift was given a raw deal. Thrown under the bus by her own party for political expediency in 2003 simply because Mitt Romney was the "safe bet", she was forced to make tough budgetary decisions during the post-9/11 economic decline. Whatever good will there was between her and the press was silenced over her willingness to make decisions considered unpopular at the time. She knew this and she took one for the team. But history is correcting itself.
Swift is a person who has shown she can throw punches harder than the ones she took at the height of her political career at the beginning stages of the twenty-first century. It is this type of steadfast determination which has pushed Swift most her life. Almost two decades since 9/11, countless stories from that day have yet to be shared with the world. This is Jane Swift's story from her perspective as Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on 11 September 2001:
"9/11 was actually one of the few days where I was slated to leave home a little later than usual...it was the first day I was going to stay overnight in Eastern Massachusetts for fundraising after the birth of my twin daughters," Swift said. As governor, she commuted three hours each day from her family farm in Williamstown, western Massachusetts, to the state capital in Boston. Swift has always been dedicated to her family despite anything. Sundays were reserved strictly for family - "non-negotiable", she once said in 2003.
"I had just returned from a short run when my husband casually mentioned...that a small plane had hit a building in New York. I was in a hurry, jumped in the shower but within minutes one of my most trusted aides called to tell me two planes had been hijacked from Logan, and that while we did not know many details yet, something terrible was unfolding and I needed to get in to Boston as soon as possible."
From the beginning of the attacks, information to the Governor seemed to come just as quickly for her as it did most Americans.
"Right from the beginning, because of Amy Sweeney’s (a flight attendant on one of the Boston flights) bravery in calling from the plane back to the tower we knew immediately that flights from Logan Airport were involved, and that many Massachusetts residents were likely to be victims of this attack. There were many decisions being made almost immediately – some technically with my authority but really because of significant preparation by our state public safety officials."
Swift mentioned the National Guard dispatched fighter jets from a Cape air base to try and reach the second jet before it could be used as a weapon (which unfortunately was not possible); and a decision by the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) to reverse all lines of traffic leaving Boston as citizens began to go home for the day as the situation was emerging, and the decision by the state police to put cruisers and bomb sniffing units at numerous vulnerable points.
But even Swift could not avoid certain political decisions as the day unfolded. Decisions which she was praised for.
"By far the most reported on...and the most controversial and debated was whether to allow a special primary election which was being held in downtown Boston...to fill an empty Congressional seat. The Secretary of State (William Galvin) wanted to cancel the election but the Attorney General (Thomas Reilly) and every public safety professional strongly advised to continue the voting, otherwise we would be letting the terrorists win. While authority to make the decision was not clear, the AG was prepared to go to court to back up my decision which would have effectively, he believed, resolved the situation, and the Secretary of State backed down once I publicly announced my decision."
But if Swift and her team were getting minimal information that day, it was a reflection of how the Bush administration was operating.
"In the early hours we were getting sporadic information, but by mid-day the National Governor’s Association had the ability to work with the White House to begin holding short conference call briefings. But there was very little information initially and...even in the first several weeks while we dealt with a state of emergency and possible follow up attacks, I did not have national security clearance (nor did any governor)...there had to be a gerry-rigged situation where the US Attorney would come and convey ‘critical’ information to me without violating his clearance."
"In the coming weeks, I visited the White House frequently as did Governors of both parties from states that were thought to be of particular interest as targets. I greatly admired President Bush’s calm and confident demeanor in those early days."
Time moved on and the nation began to ask how we could prevent another 9/11. The end result was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
"I testified in support of the bill in Congress...our airport – Logan – had outsourced its security to a private company. While I don’t believe that is responsible for the attacks, it was clear that we needed a more professional and coordinated approach to airport security and screening."
However, with the power of hindsight, Swift couldn't help but rightfully bemuse the airline industry in this post-9/11 world.
"As a frequent business traveler today, I often reflect on my support for the creation of TSA!"
"But seriously, we knew then and I suspect it is true today, that those terrorists who want to disrupt our economy and our confidence would love to launch a similar attack on our air transportation system, and while there is definitely a need for continuous improvement, the fact that we have not suffered another attack is an indication that our efforts have been successful."
The Governor also had insight on maintaining the security of the United States.
"The challenge for sustaining support for Homeland Security is that the longer that success is achieved and no attacks occur, the more complacent the public becomes and the less tolerant of the disruptions caused by enhanced security. Interestingly, this was one of the specific messages I remember the President sharing in the first days after 9/11 – the fact that the terrorists were convinced that Americans would eventually grow tired of security and forget the attacks and the threat and public support would wane and they would be waiting. I will never forget the look of determination on his face to make sure that would never happen on his watch or while he had the ability to impact that reality."
In the time since she left the governor's office, Jane Swift has been a CEO and respected leader in the education field, being named Executive Chair of the Ultimate Medical Academy Board of Director's earlier this year in Tampa, Florida. The little girls of Governor Swift and her husband, Chuck Hunt, which Massachusetts residents might remember from the news, are now either in college or about to be. But if Jane Swift did have any regrets, they didn't seem to bother her.
"I have learned so much! But the preparation of those public safety officials for a major event, which enabled me to make good decisions on 9/11, is something that has stayed with me. Even in the private sector, it is so hard to pivot from reaction to planning and preparation and strategy, but doing so is critically important for the times when crisis hits."
Jane Swift is probably one of the most consistent people to have ever sat in the governor's seat. One of her consistencies has been her opinion about seeking public office again since she left office in 2003 (I confess I've egged her on more than once about this):
"While all of us would love to have do-overs, and if there is anything that I could go back to insure that 9/11 didn’t happen, of course I would. Every year I think about the people who were lost and the ways it has changed our country and world – the one my daughters are now coming of age in. I particularly think of one little girl who is likely a senior in high school this year just like my twins – I met her and her family at a memorial service by TJX (a Massachusetts retail chain) who lost a number of women on one of the flights. She was four months older than my girls and on 9/11 her mother was leaving on an overnight business trip for the first time and, of course, never came back. I was supposed to be leaving on the morning of 9/11 for an overnight business trip and because of the events of the day all political fundraisers were cancelled and so I actually came home that night when so many other moms did not. That stays with me – I am sure it always will."