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WHO I AM - Part I

Over the past several months I have written about topics that I feel are important for a District Attorney to speak about. Thus, you hopefully have gotten a glimpse of the kind of prosecutor I am. I feel it is also important for you to know my background and life history as well because everything I have lived through has shaped the person that I am, and as voters and future constituents you have a right to know the person who is asking for your support. People have asked me during my campaign what drives my passion and commitment to public service and protecting victims. I will attempt to answer that question by showing you in parts what I feel are the significant experiences that have shaped my life. As I have always said, I believe in transparency from all elected officials, and in that spirit I will share highlights from my background that describe and explain why I have dedicated my life to public service, from serving in the US Army to spending my entire career helping victims and working as a prosecutor, rejecting opportunities to go to the private sector for less stress and more money.

I was born to a single mother in a small rural town in Texas. She was poor, uneducated, and lacked the means to care for me, my brother and sister. Thus, when I was five years old she gave up her parental rights to a man who was seen as an upstanding member of the community, no doubt hoping by doing so she was giving us a chance at a better life. I have no memory of my biological mother and never learned the identity of my biological father. I vaguely remember the day we moved in with this new family that already consisted of a husband and wife, their son who was a year older than me, and two adolescent girls—no blood relation to us or the husband and wife who took us in. I never saw or spoke to my biological mother again.

Unfortunately, as often happens, and as I have seen so many times in my career, the man who took us in was a completely different person behind closed doors. My brothers and sisters and I endured years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse before his wife finally got the courage to leave him. He had married her when she was 16, after which she quickly became pregnant and suffered years of abuse as well, thinking ironically that she was enduring only her pain in order to give us kids a decent life. She did not realize he was also abusing the kids. With no clear prospects for the future, she finally got the strength to leave the abusive husband, taking all of us kids with her when I was nine years old.

That one act of courage by that young 25 year old woman changed my life and the lives of my siblings forever. You see, that woman is my “mom” and has been since I was 5 years old. The remarkable thing is that she had no legal obligation to care for me, my brother or sisters. We were never formally adopted and she could have given us to Texas Social Services and gone on to a much easier life of raising only her two biological sons. In fact, I recall overhearing a conversation with her sister soon after she left her abusive husband where she was told that she didn’t owe us anything and urging her to turn us over to the State. I will never forget how loved I felt when I heard my mom tell her sister that she loved us just like her own. She was a single mom raising 5 children on the salary of an LPN (licensed practical nurse). We were very often dirt poor but I never doubted how much she loved all of us.

After being on her own for several years, she met and married a man in the Air Force from Omaha, Nebraska. I don’t know how her new husband felt about having an instant family, but I do know that my mom made it clear from the beginning that we were a package deal. If he wanted to marry her, he had to accept us. So, they married and we all moved to Omaha when I was eleven years old. Thus began my life in Nebraska.

What I learned from my childhood and my mom’s example is the importance of family, self-sacrifice, commitment to doing the right thing—no matter how difficult, and putting the needs of others before my own in order to affect positive change. Because of my mom’s courage and strength, she was able to provide a good life for me and my brothers and sisters and allowed us to blossom into adults with the potential to realize our dreams. I have lived my life with my mom’s lessons guiding and shaping my decisions and I have tried to pass these lessons on to my own two children as well as the young attorneys I mentor. I am certain that my mom is responsible for my desire to make a positive contribution to this world while I am here and why I have dedicated my life to public service. My experience also fueled my abiding passion and commitment to helping abused children and women and affords me with an ability to empathize and understand what abused victims go through. This first hand experience lends me a perspective that non-abused individuals cannot ever truly appreciate. And, while my childhood was difficult at times, I have never let that define who I am. I am blessed to have a great family, husband, kids and many good friends, as well as a successful career doing what I love. Political aspirations aside, I am hoping that my example provides inspiration to anyone who may be now struggling or has in the past gone through similar struggles to know that your past does not have to define you. You can rise above any hardships you may have encountered or are encountering and succeed in life. As I have told many victims over the course of my career, the best revenge one can exact upon an abuser is living a happy successful life.

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