First Person Singular: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano

Sunday, April 18, 2010; W05

All of my prior jobs have helped prepare me for this one. They are the kinds of jobs where you have to earn your calluses, and you have to keep moving forward. And I have earned my fair share of calluses.

You know, as a federal prosecutor, I had to establish credibility. I think anybody does as a prosecutor. You've got agents and officers who are out there doing law enforcement all the time, and what they're looking for in a prosecutor is credibility. Will you make tough calls? Will you put together good initiatives? Will you really focus on things that need to be done? Will you communicate with them? Why are you doing what you're doing? Those kinds of things. Then [in running for governor of Arizona] the question was, "Can you talk about anything other than law enforcement?" Yeah, I can talk about education, and I can talk about health care, and I can talk about budgets. So then it was establishing that I could multitask. In high school, at Sandia High School, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, home of the Matadors, I was active in a lot of activities. I was multitasking. I was the editor of the paper. I played clarinet in a variety of ensembles. And I was in student government, even then.

My parents were not political per se, but they used to talk about things at the dinner table -- sometimes argue. When I was growing up, one of my first television memories -- where I was really, really paying attention -- was watching the Watergate hearings on television. We had a black-and-white Zenith TV in the living room, and I watched. I knew all of the committee members' names. And I watched the vote in the House committee and then the Senate committee. It really just got me interested in government. It was awful, but it was also the validation of the constitutional system. I was interested in politics. You know, the whole process.

This position requires a certain experiential level. There's almost nothing I've done that doesn't touch upon DHS. This department crosses so many things. It's working with states on disaster relief. It's working on issues involving the border. Of course, I grew up in a border state. I spent my adult life in New Mexico, then Arizona. It's being able to plan major initiatives, handle major budgets. It's being able to really think about terrorism and protection of people. This is a job that requires all your skills, all the things that you've worked on, to be brought to bear. As I like to say, we're always leaning forward because we can't lean back.

Interview by CATHY AREU.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company