While Maine has a long tradition of formidable female politicians, the Democrat is a star in her own right. At 33, the speaker of the Maine house says her youth is not an obstacle. "Once you prove you care about the issue and that you're smart," Pingree says, "you earn your colleagues' respect."
Who is your political hero/inspiration?
"My mom. When I was 14 years old, she ran for office. To see her succeed in politics, that had a huge impact on my life. She's one of my political heroes. Also, in high school, I worked for then-U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, in Washington. He's one of the most thoughtful statesman-like politicians I've ever encountered. I think his level of calmness, his ability to get things done for Maine, at the time, and for the country, I had a lot of respect for him.
What's your go-to political blog?
"I like to see what my constituents are saying on Facebook. That's not a blog, really. But Talking Points Memo is a good one. I read the Maine newspapers, the New York Times.
If you weren't working in politics, what would you be doing?
"I love politics. Even in these times, politics is hard, the word 'politics' isn't popular, and politicians aren't the most poplar people. But being able to serve in the stage legislature, where a lot of the work we do is bipartisan, there are decent people on both sides of the aisle. You can make a difference. I've been able to pass a lot of bills or make an impact on the people I grew up with: fishermen in my district, people who need good housing, environmental policy that impacts kids' health. If I hadn't been able to do that in politics, I would have given up a long time ago. All the challenges and, sometimes, meanness and frustration you encounter in politics is worth it, if you can make good things happen."
What's the most overlooked issue facing America these days?
"Poverty. People understand there's a recession, that people are struggling for jobs. There are a lot of people in this country, in my district, who are in poverty. We've done very little to actually deal with it. My other issue that is becoming a little more looked at is toxic chemicals that mostly end up in our homes. I've been working on it in children's products.
Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?
"I'm a woman in her 30s who wants to have a successful career in politics, and a family. Hopefully, in 5 years, I'll be finding a way to do both. How? That's a great question.