Swift, Jane, 1965-

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1965-02-24

Biographical notes:

Jane Swift speaking at an event

Gov. Jane Maria Swift was born in North Adams, Massachusetts, in 1965 to Jack and Jean Swift. Her mother, a teacher, and father, a plumbing and heating specialist, were active in the political scene in Berkshire County and forged bonds with local politicians that later propelled Jane's political career.

After graduating from high school, Swift attended Trinity College where she majored in American Studies. It was while at Trinity that she made her first foray into politics, interning in 1985 for a state senator from her home district, Peter Webber. Considered part of what the press called the Western Massachusetts (or Berkshire) "Republican juggernaut," Webber enjoyed wide respect in the state and the political power, financial backing, and public support that came with it. Swift made such an impression on Webber that he called on her three years later (1988) when a position on his political team opened up. As Webber's legislative aide, Swift helped design an outreach program to communities in Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties which were added to the Berkshire district through re-districting. Visiting these Hill Town communities, Swift became well-versed in the challenges facing the small, rural communities in the Commonwealth. When Webber chose not to run for re-election in 1990, Swift made a bid for his seat, earning the warm endorsements of Webber and his mentor, Jack Fitzpatrick, a former State Senator and key member of the Republican juggernaut. Still only 25, Swift became Massachusetts's youngest female State Senator.

From the beginning of her career, education sat high on the list of Swift's legislative agenda. During her three terms as Senator (1991-1997), she emerged as a leader in education reform and was part of the team that wrote the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993. A rising star in the Republican Party, she rose to the rank of assistant minority leader before leaving the Senate in 1996 to run for the U.S. House, aiming for the 1st Congressional District seat held by John Olver. Many saw this election as Swift's first serious political test and even though Olver won after a hard-fought campaign, he did so by the smallest margin of his career: 53 to 47%. The surprisingly close race catapulted Swift to the top of the Massachusetts Republican ranks. After completing her term in the State Senate, Gov. William Weld appointed her Director of Regional Airport Development at the Massachusetts Port Authority from March to November, 1997, after which she was appointed Director of the Massachusetts Office Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations by Acting Gov. Paul Cellucci. Less than a year later, she signed on as Cellucci's running mate in his bid for Governor, and in the winter 1999, she was sworn into office as Lieutenant Governor.

During her time in office, Swift was no stranger to controversy or to the harsh light of publicity. Being a single young woman in the Senate, she became the center of debate about women as political leaders versus as wives and mothers, and after she married Chuck Hunt in 1994, whom she had met at a political rally in 1990, she was propelled into the national spotlight when she announced her pregnancy during the election of 1998. In short order, her pregnancy rather than her political positions became a focal point for many newspaper and media outlets, becoming a top story nationally, where it was repeatedly cited as highlighting the larger issues pertaining to working mothers.

Although Swift enjoyed high approval ratings when taking office as Lieutenant Governor, she soon became embroiled in personal and political controversy, beginning with allegations of misuse of government resources. At Thanksgiving time, Swift was accused of using a state helicopter to return home to care for a sick child, and she faced complaints that she ordered staff members to babysit her daughter. Facing a backlash from the public and political opponents, Swift requested an investigation by the State Ethics Commission which issued her a letter of warning regarding her use of the state helicopter and levied a civil penalty of $1250 for misuse of two aides. But the criticism did not relent. Hobbled by criticism of her inexperience and for surrounding herself with equally inexperienced staff members, Swift appeared to her opponents as unapologetic and seemingly entitled. Accusations that she was overcompensated for a teaching position at Suffolk University and scrutiny of suspect "deals" on her various apartments fueled the controversy.

When Cellucci resigned the governorship in April 2001 to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Swift became Acting Governor, making her the first woman in Massachusetts history to occupy that office. Barely a month later, she gave birth to twin daughters, earning the distinction of becoming the first governor in the country to give birth while in office. Her tenure as Acting Governor was dominated by the fallout of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent financial turmoil. Lauded by her supporters for her decisiveness and calm demeanor, she helped lead the call on Congress to create the Department of Homeland Security, receiving generally positive marks for her performance, but little in the way of a bump in popularity. When she announced that she would run for governor the next year, she ran into stiff competition for the Republican ticket from businessman Mitt Romney, and after an assessment of the economic and political atmosphere convinced her that she could not win the nomination, she suspended her campaign, stating: "I believe that this is in the best interest of our state, as it will allow the Republican Party's best chances of holding the governor's office in November." Romney went onto win.

While Swift's political career may be remembered for its scandals as much as its policies, her post-gubernatorial career has been exactly what she has made of it, focusing on her passion for education. In 2003 she took a position at Arcadia Partners, an investment firm that focuses on the education industry. She left Arcadia in 2006 to found her own consulting firm WPN Consulting in 2007, and even served as John McCain's education adviser in his 2008 Presidential Campaign. From 2009-2011, she served as Senior Vice President of ConnectEDU, Inc., before being named CEO of Middlebury Interactive Languages in 2011. Middlebury Interactive Languages is a combined effort by Middlebury College and K12, Inc. to develop and implement new technologies in the classroom.

Jane Swift currently lives in Vermont with her husband and three daughters.

From the guide to the Jane Swift Papers MS 823., 1988-2008, (Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries)

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Subjects:

  • Women governors--Massachusetts
  • Women politicians--Massachusetts

Occupations:

not available for this record

Places:

  • Massachusetts (as recorded)