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Sen. Pat Spearman: 'Look out Washington; I'm on my way'
by Sarah Toce
2018-05-17

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Nevada state Sen. Pat Spearman plays the drums backward because her band director in high school told her he wouldn't let her transfer to the drum section because "girls don't play drums."

"Girls don't play drums; you play the clarinet. So I decided to teach myself how to play—and I taught myself how to play shop set."

Now, the pioneering Democratic Sen. Spearman is at the center of a heated congressional race in Nevada. The seat became open when a member of Congress representing her district decided to forfeit running due to sexual harassment and assault charges. At first, Spearman couldn't understand why her phone was buzzing repeatedly. "You should run," "You need to run," "Please, you have to do this for us." These messages came in minute after minute from unknown numbers until Sen. Spearman clicked on a story link and understood the weight of the moment.

"Oh, my goodness, oh, my goodness," she said. "And this was about the first of December, so I've got to think about this. … So I did. I talked to my family and prayed about it. Talked to some friends who I count on to keep me grounded and they all said the same thing: 'Yeah, you really have to do this because No. 1, there aren't enough veteran voices in Congress. No. 2, as a member of the LGBTQ community and everything that's happening, you're strong enough to stand against that sort of thing and you won't back down and people who are being oppressed and emotionally abused by this sort of behavior, they need your voice."

That settled that and made the decision a relative no-brainer for Spearman. She followed her gut, her instinct, the cries from her constituents, and decided to enter the race.

Previously, Spearman chaired the bill to ratify the ERA in Nevada. As a former pastor and as a member of the African American community, Spearman felt a calling to serve her community once again.

"I had some friends of mine who were pastors who heard about [the open seat] and they said, 'Are you thinking about running for this seat?' And I'm like, 'Well, I'm praying about it,'" she remembered. "And they're like, 'You know, as a former pastor you understand a lot of the same things that we face in terms of trying to do for our congregants and our parishioners and you know probably better than anybody else why we have to have a budget that reflects our principles for caring for people and the least of these.'"

Then something shifted in the race.

"We had the person who used to be in the seat decide to come back from Washington, D.C., and run for the seat [again]," she said. People began asking if she felt like backing down. They obviously didn't know Spearman. She never backs down.

"African American women have carried this party for a long time and I'm sick and tired of every time we get ready to run for something or we're sponsoring something or we're trying to make a difference, I'm sick and tired of people acting like we have no business at this party," she told them. "I am not getting out of this race and I'm offended that you would even ask."

She added, "I said, listen, hard I know, easy I've never had to do. So bring it. I mean, I'm an African American; I'm a woman; I'm in the LGBT community; I've never caught a break. I've always had to work hard for everything that I got and the fact that someone would tell me up front it's going to be different raising money just emboldened me even more."

She believes she is in the race for all the right reasons.

"I'm retired, I don't need to go to Washington to 'get a job' and get a paycheck," she said. "I'm going to Washington because I want to get a job done and I want to be a voice for all of those constituencies that called me and said, 'Please run.' And since I decided to run, with what the President has said and basically done to transgender members of the military, I'm like, you know if the election were held tomorrow, I'd say I'm ready to go to D.C. day after tomorrow."

Still, there are some barriers.

"It hasn't been easy," she said. "There's still some people who believe that women should step aside if a man wants the job and even more bizarre, there are African American women who say that women should step aside. So, I'm in this. It's been different, but God has really provided. We have a real grassroots campaign—and a lot of small dollar donors. And a lot of people who have volunteered. And the fact that some people decided to shut me down because I was not their anointed one, I could care less. David had five smooth stones; I've got some tremendous volunteers."

Spearman spoke next about her first day of officer basic for military police school. A time in her life that most certainly prepared her for the battle she now faces.

"I was basically told by one of the instructors that I wouldn't make it," she said. "He walked all the way around the room and then he stopped in front of me and he said these words, 'Some of you all are not going to make it.' And I looked at Jerry, who was next to me, and I said, 'Oh, he's not talking about me. He's not talking about me.' And they did everything they could to make me quit."

That included sexually harassing the young student in January 1978, a time when the White Corp. had just been deactivated approximately five years prior.

"This was the first time that women were admitted to combat support roles," she said. "Instead of just being attached to them, we were actually branched into that. At the time, I thought I was the only African American woman in the course and found about 12 years later there was another one, but she could pass—and she did. So there was, I caught hell. But I've always said if it's my goal to complete this and somebody else's goal is to make sure I don't, I'm going to prove you a liar. Tell me I can't do something and that's just like saying sic 'em to a pit bull. I'm going to do this."

Not to be lost in the conversation, "the reason the seat is open is because someone had a #metoo movement moment and decided #timesup," she said. "It's important for people to know that I'm running in a race where women came forward. And it's important for people to know that because the very fact that you're running, even if you don't know who the alleged victims are, the very fact that you're running will say to them, times have changed. The paradigm has shifted and most people know. The one thing you don't want to do is pick an argument with me about something I believe in. You don't want to do that."

Sen. Mark Manendo resigned in 2017 after several allegations of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment that had gone on for more than 20 years. Spearman said that she was approached because the victims felt that she could "do something about it."

"Their stories reminded me about when I was a captain in Panama in 1986. I was an 03 and my senior rater, who is an 06, propositioned me in some very graphic terms," she remembered. "And he made sure to let me know that he could help my career. By default, he could also hurt it."

Spearman told her senior, "I don't do that, sir. I don't do that," but he didn't take the retort kindly. "He came to my hotel room, knocked on the door … I acted like I wasn't there. I was basically a prisoner in my hotel room for a whole day one Saturday. And the maid let me out; she ushered me over to the service elevator and I went down the service elevator, ran to my car, and went to some friends' house."

Spearman remembered, "There was really no place that I could go. I was in Panama. I couldn't even get off the island without orders and the orders would have to come from him. So I was trapped, scared to death." She recalled thinking, "If I say something, I'm going to lose my career. Because nobody's going to believe a captain and an 06 and someone who has a combat infantry badge. They're not going to believe me. I just knew it."

So she remained silent.

"I was silent, but it was a silent rage because I felt like I had been violated even though I did not agree to do what he wanted to do and I stayed away from him," she said. "I made sure that I was with somebody all the time. I was just so angry on the inside."

Spearman escorted Sen. Manendo's victims to the office of Sen. Aaron Ford, who is now running for Attorney General in the state.

"I could see him getting visibly, physically upset," she recalled. "He said, 'I'll handle it.' And so he initiated an independent investigation. Hired a private investigator. And halfway through the investigation, said to those in leadership, 'There's some credible evidence that has arisen and there are a lot of women whose stories have been corroborated. And so, we're going to have to do something.' And he did. He took him out of his Chairmanship for Transportation—and then silenced him."

Spearman added, "Now here's why that's important: that was 20 years of women having to go through that. It was 20 years of them telling people and nothing happened. They told Republicans who were in leadership. They told someone who was a Democrat who was in leadership and nothing was done. And so the fact that I'm running in a race that the seat is open because of this, is significant to every woman who's ever come forward and people have said we don't believe you."

Spearman's platform could not be any clearer.

"We're going to win and we're going to make sure that pay equity is the law of the land," she said. "We're going to make sure that people who do mean things and people who act inappropriately are not shielded by their gender. We're going to make sure that equality is the law of the land. All of those things that I've said in my 2016 speech at the Democratic National Convention, all of that stuff is going to happen. So look out Washington; I'm on my way."

Learn more about Spearman via her campaign website: www.spearman4congress.com .


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