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Her time on the school board was not an easy one. The board spent more time hacking and whacking budgets than building new gymnasiums. Ms. James, however, became known as a consensus builder, a style that sometimes frustrated board colleagues who wanted less consultation and more decisions.
When the 2001 provincial election rolled around she was invited by the NDP, the Liberals and the Progressive Democratic Alliance to run.
She chose the NDP.
Ms. James would narrowly lose that year in a Liberal landslide. In fact, it was later shown that the Green Party cost her the seat. The next couple of years would be tumultuous ones as she went through a divorce, buried her grandparents, quit her job in the civil service and moved to Prince George to become director of child and family services for the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council.
While there, Ms. James started a relationship with Albert Gerow, a local politician and a member of the Burns Lake band. They married a couple of years later.
When Joy MacPhail announced her resignation as leader of the NDP, Ms. James was initially intrigued by the opening but decided against it.
However, after dozens of encouraging phone calls, she decided to seek the position. In November of 2003, she won the leadership on the second ballot, prompting the New Democrats and Liberals to ask: Carole Who?
Ms. James has spent the last year travelling the province, introducing herself and what she says is her new brand of politics. While her media profile was virtually nil, it didn't prevent the NDP from climbing in the polls to a position that put the party neck and neck with the Liberals. Just recently, the Liberals have opened up a lead heading into the election.
Ms. James understands the magnitude of the challenge that lies ahead. She understands she will be answering questions aimed at the sins of past NDP leaders for a long time. But she also believes she offers a clear alternative to the Liberals' Gordon Campbell. She believes you can show compassion for people and still balance the budget.
Time will tell how many people are willing to buy that.
But whenever she's feeling alone or vulnerable she'll close her eyes and think of two women she knows are rooting her on. And that, she's betting, will make her feel just fine.