An unprecedented number of women are chasing political office in the 2018 midterm elections. This month, we're profiling several worthy candidates who are seeking to effect change. 

By Samantha Simon
Oct 19, 2018 @ 9:00 pm
Eric Gay/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Politics is a dirty game — especially at this moment in the U.S. But MJ Hegar has been through real trauma that pales in comparison to that of a partisan debate. She served three tours as an Air Force helicopter pilot in Afghanistan before she was injured when her helicopter was shot down by enemy fire in 2009, at which point she was honorably discharged and awarded a Purple Heart for defending her crew in the face of danger. Needless to say, her life was forever changed by the incident. And so was her career path. 

“The dramatic nature of the mission where I was shot down presented me with a big responsibility,” Hegar tells InStyle. “People kept interviewing me and asking me to write op-eds about my experiences in the military. I used my platform to advocate for things like PTSD awareness, military sexual assault, women in combat, and other veteran issues. The next logical step was [politics].”

Hegar, a Democrat running for Texas’s 31st district in Congress, quickly learned that while she was no longer in military combat, things on the ground in the U.S. were far from harmonious. “When my military career ended, I did what many service members do: I kept looking for where the metaphorical fire was so I could run to it and try to put it out,” she says. “Right now the most important battle of my generation is being waged in government.”

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That’s why Hegar is determined to make her voice count. “I’m running for Congress because it represents my highest and best contribution to continue serving my country, and because it’s the strongest way I know how to protect the world into which my children are embarking,” she explains. “My experiences in the military taught me that there is no more noble ambition than to serve this great nation.” 

Most important issues:

In addition to championing education, affordable healthcare, and women’s rights, Hegar hopes to play a role in ending the chaos of our current political climate. “I think the most important issues right now are corruption and hyper-partisanship in D.C.,” she says. “When I was serving in Afghanistan, I didn’t think about whether my fellow soldiers were Democrats or Republicans — we were just focused on getting the mission accomplished. I also believe that one of the greatest threats to our democracy is the influence of powerful special interest groups on the political process.”

Community inspiration:

Hegar finds her strength from “the enormous outpouring of support and volunteers from my district,” she says. “Because I grew up here, I am strongly connected to the people in this area. To see so many people locking arms and working so hard to get us better representation is truly an inspiration. Whether it’s veterans fighting for a more stable world environment or parents of children with pre-existing conditions, this district deserves someone who will be accessible and will champion our best interests in D.C.”

Biggest challenges:

From an early age, Hegar was aware of the struggles faced by many Americans. “We didn’t have much money growing up,” she says. “My mom worked three jobs to keep food on the table and I worked my fair share of minimum wage service industry jobs. I thanked my lucky stars for the insurance coverage I had through my mom from her job.” Hegar is determined to help others get the same access to healthcare that she had growing up. “A big part of the problem is that the majority of our members of Congress are people who have never worried about healthcare costs, retirement, or taking care of aging parents,” she explains. “We need more people like me who have faced the challenges that our representatives are attempting to legislate solutions to.”

That sentiment goes way beyond the key issues on Hegar’s platform. “We need a legislative branch that is more reflective of the demographics of the electorate if it is to truly represent us,” she says. “We need people from different walks of life who have varied perspectives, experiences, and ways of thinking. Our government is supposed to work for the people — not just some of the people.”

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Badass moment:

With her impressive combat résumé and a sleeve of tattoos to cover her battle scars, Hegar is the definition of a badass woman. But her most empowering moment was sweeter than it was tough. “I was trying to explain to my toddler what Mommy was doing running for Congress,” she says. “I told him I was going to stand up for our community, our environment, his education, his rights, and to keep him and his little brother safe. He pondered that for a moment and then hugged me, proclaiming, ‘My mommy’s a superhero!’ That made me feel like quite a badass.”