Secretary of State Debra Bowen, whose long absences from her office have prompted criticism from at least one candidate to replace her in November, revealed to the Los Angeles Times on Friday that she suffers from severe and “debilitating” depression. Bowen won support for her honesty, as well as empathy for her illness, but also prompted calls that she should step down for the remaining four months of her term if she cannot do her job.
Republican Pete Peterson, who has criticized Bowen’s inattention to her duties, told the Times that he is not sure whether Bowen should resign, but that he was certain she could not do her job properly from home.
“That’s an office where you have to be physically present,” Peterson told the Times. He has made the poor performance of the Democrat incumbent a key issue in his campaign against rival State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima).
Bowen, who cannot run again due to term limits, insists that she can perform the job while working from home, and her staff seem to agree.
However, the office of the Secretary of State has struggled to keep up with its duties. A Pew study in April found that California ranks 49th out of 50 states in voting administration, a key function of the Secretary of State’s office. The office also struggles to make small business registration easy and convenient.
Depression is not necessarily uncommon among high achievers, in politics as in other fields. The stigma that accompanies the illness makes it more difficult for individuals suffering depression to admit the problem and to seek help. Bowen has reportedly hidden her illness for over two decades in politics.
The question is why Bowen is making her announcement now, so late in her term and so close to the elections that her office must oversee.