Jacky Rosen is now in the news.
The first-term Nevada congresswoman, who until entering politics served as a synagogue president, is now poised to run for the state’s senate seat opening in 2018. Rosen, according to reports has responded positively to requests from Democratic leaders to challenge incumbent Republican Dean Heller, in hope that a fresh face and a strong anti-Republican wave, could help flip the seat.
Rosen is an unlikely Democratic rising star, offering an outsider resume far away from Washington politics.
In an election cycle that left Democrats frustrated, Rosen was a breath of fresh air. The former computer programmer’s decision to step into politics helped the party add a House seat in a Nevada swing district that elected Donald Trump for president.
Rosen, 59, had little experience in politics before she threw her hat into the congressional race. On Capitol Hill, she told the Forward, she sought to strike a bipartisan tone, reaching out to Republicans for joint legislation on support for Israel, battling anti-Semitism and even taking on President Obama in her first floor speech because of his decision to allow a United Nations resolution critical of Israel. Republicans, however, still want her defeated and have listed Rosen on their 2018 target list, hoping to make her a one-term congresswoman.
And yes, in an interview with the Forward before she decided to run for the Senate, the former president of Congregation Ner Tamid, a Reform synagogue in Henderson, Nevada, believes that running a synagogue can teach you something about surviving in politics.
Nathan Guttman: What surprised you most about Congress?
Rep. Jacky Rosen: I’ve seen people trying to really forge a relationship that is more about conversation and less about going into corners. So I think that’s been a surprising thing and something you don’t see on the news, especially in large states where there’s large delegations and they have to worry about things like fires, floods or hurricanes. People do work together on[ real important issues, and that was surprising and wonderful.
N.G.: Did you find yourself reaching across the aisle, working with members from the Republican Party?
J.R.: Yeah, I have been, especially on the Defend Israel Act we’re working on to accelerate appropriation fundings for the State of Israel missile defense system. Working with Doug Lamborn from Colorado on that, and that’s terrific. We have a bipartisan congressional task force against anti-Semitism, that’s fantastic. We’ve worked on the Community Center Protection Act, that’s another bipartisan bill that protects JCCs. The thing I am most proud of is that this session there’s a new caucus called the Problem Solving Caucus, and so I’m an originator with that caucus, and we’re about 50 of us, equal amounts of Democrats and Republicans, and our whole mission statement is to find those ways to work across the aisle and to bring the conversation back to the table. We make the joke now that you have to come like Noah’s Ark — you have to come two by two, you have to have a Republican and a Democrat. I think we can find some consensus there and show people that we can begin to talk again.
N.G.: Do you feel that your experience as a synagogue president guides you in any way in politics? In Congress?
J.R.: Oh, absolutely. I will tell you that not just being a synagogue president but just my faith background and tikkun olam, that how I feel about repairing my corner of the world and what’s important to me, guides me each and every day in everything I do. And it tells me, too, that even though we’re in the minority, I know that my voice needs to be[here HEARD?] , because we must be represented, we must speak out. I feel that it’s my responsibility for the things I care about.. Of course, being the synagogue president, for me it was a great blessing. I have a wonderful synagogue, fantastic rabbi and cantor and membership, and they just enrich my life every day, and I learned so much from helping to grow our synagogue, grow our membership, and meet the needs of such a diverse population.
N.G.: Anti-Semitism has been on the rise in recent months. Do you feel Congress is doing enough, that Washington is doing enough to counter this problem?
J.R.: It’s one area where we can always do more, and I’m going to steal the byline of the [Anti-Defamation League]: No Place for Hate. And so for me, for who I am and for what I stand for, when I say “Never again,” just like when you say it, it means never again for anyone. So any communities that there’s hate against, whether it’s our community or so many others, we need to stand up against that; it is our obligation.
N.G.: It’s still early on in your term, but people are already looking at the 2018 elections, and the Republicans have you on their “target list.” How worried are you about that?
J.R.: I’m actually not worried about it, because one of the reasons I got into this job was for constituent services. One of the most important things I think that I can do is to make a difference in the daily lives of the people back in the district. So when I’m home, working, meeting people one on one, sharing with them my passion for what’s going on, listening to them, being Nevada’s biggest champion, I think that’s what’s going to keep me in office, and so I just go out there every day and do the best I can. In Washington you legislate, but at home you touch people’s lives; that’s what I try to do when I go there.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.