Kelly Ayotte served as a U.S. Senator from New Hampshire from 2011 to 2017.
Harvard Political Review: You clerked for Justice Sherman Horton in New Hampshire and eventually became Attorney General of the state. Was there a particular moment when your political identity began to take shape or was it a gradual process?
KA: I would say it was more of a gradual process, in the sense that I was not politically active growing up. In college, I was involved in student government but not politically active.
I went to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office. Especially when you are at a prosecutorial office, it is just not a political place. I was a murder prosecutor, and that is not a political job. I had never been involved in any political campaigns, and I was actually a registered independent, although I always tended to vote conservative. But I did not talk a lot about my political views before that because of my role as a prosecutor.
HPR: After serving as Attorney General, you ran for Senate. It was the first time you ran for elected office—
KA: It was, because in New Hampshire, the Attorney General is appointed.
HPR: What went into that decision to run? Was it gut? Was it data? What did you learn from that first campaign?
KA: It definitely was not data-driven, much more gut-driven. I decided to run, because I had looked a lot at what was happening in the country. President Barack Obama had gotten elected, and there were things that were happening that I did not agree with. I thought that Judd Gregg would run again. He had been a great senator, and I was surprised when he did not run again.
I was surprised when some other people did not step up. A number of people I respect, including Judd Gregg, encouraged me to run. That was when my husband and I sat down and said, “Ok, this is something that we are going to do.”
It was a big decision, because I had to quit my job as Attorney General. I thought that was important, because I did not want that office to be involved in a political campaign. I took a year-and-a-half off from work to run for office and campaigned full-time every day.
HPR: As Senator, how did you split your time between New Hampshire and Washington, D.C.?
KA: I have two children, so I would leave New Hampshire on Monday morning or early afternoon. I would fly back Thursday nights. I was a commuter and still stayed in New Hampshire. My husband has a small business in New Hampshire and our kids have gone to school in New Hampshire, so I was the one commuting back and forth.
HPR: You endorsed former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Did you agree with the decision to roll it back two weeks ago?
KA: It is important to address climate change. I supported not rolling back the Clean Power Plan. I would have preferred a legislative solution, which would be more balanced and have more buy-in from both sides of the aisle. Just pulling it back without an alternative or legislative solution is not something that I would have been supportive of if I were still in the Senate.
HPR: President Trump asked you to help Justice Neil Gorsuch through his confirmation process. What was that process like?
KA: It was a really interesting process. Getting to know a justice that well, spending eight to ten hours a day, then also going to meet almost eighty senators, and helping him prepare was a real immersion in constitutional law. But it was a very interesting process, and I have now a friendship with Justice Gorsuch, whom I have great respect for, so I feel good that he is going to serve on the Supreme Court.
HPR: Once he was in office, President Trump claimed there was voter fraud in New Hampshire. Do you share his concern?
KA: I have said I could have asked for a recount in my election. I did not. The one thing that does need to be addressed in our state, and there are some bills pending in our state legislature, is the residency requirement issue. I would not characterize it in the same way that the president did, but I would say that there are definitely issues involving our residency law that need to be addressed and that I think the legislature is debating now.
HPR: You just joined the board of News Corp, a company that owns hundreds of media properties. How can journalists regain trust with many citizens in the United States?
KA: One of the issues that I think is important is journalism has to be fact-based and independent. It cannot be about your own personal political views. Having been a Republican in the middle of a pretty tough campaign, I know there is some legitimacy to the complaints you hear. It is not always so easy coming from a conservative point of view when it comes to the media.
But there is an overall issue with the media that is important, and that is this issue of fake news and journalism that is researched and verifiable. We have seen a shrinking share of print media and the resources for real verified reporting. To me, that is a very important issue, because if we look at media in our democracy, the media plays a very important role. It is important that we keep a viable strong print media, whether it is through digital or other means. That is one of the reasons I wanted to join News Corp.
HPR: Do you think you would ever want to be a public servant again?
KA: I love to serve. I spent twenty years of my life in public service, so I will always find a way to serve. I do not know what the next chapter holds for me. Even if I am not in a public official position, I will be involved in ways of serving our state, whether through non-profits I care about or issues that I can get involved in. It is rewarding to find ways to serve in some capacity, even if you do not have an official title. I will definitely look for ways to do that.
Image Source: Flickr/Gage Skidmore