I started out as a teacher and a researcher. For years, I had been studying a pressing phenomenon: families who worked hard and played by the rules, yet often ended up in bankruptcy. I figured I’d work on what was happening, and others could fight the political battles over how to solve it.
In 1995 I got a call from former Congressman Mike Synar of Oklahoma, who had been appointed by President Clinton to head up the National Bankruptcy Review Commission. He knew about my research and asked me to advise the commission.
I told him I didn’t want to get involved because I was a researcher and had no interest in politics. Mike told me if I helped develop the report, he would take care of the politics. He said this was an opportunity where I could make a real difference for middle class families. This convinced me, and I said yes.
Shortly after I got to work on the Bankruptcy Commission, Mike developed brain cancer and died. I was asked to stay on by the Commission’s new leadership. I knew I had to make a choice: Go back into the academic world or dive headlong into politics.
I said no. I didn’t have any experience, and without Mike I was sure it would be an even harder task. But ultimately, I decided this would be a chance to stand up for families and to push back on some very damaging policies advocated by the credit industry.
So I leaned in, stayed on as an adviser and never looked back. It took some convincing to get me to spend time in Washington, but I’m grateful to those who urged me to jump in. Through my work with the Bankruptcy Commission and in my other public roles since, I’ve had more chances to fight to level the playing field for middle class families. It’s the right fight, and I hope I’ve had some impact.