So she got them. She earned a law degree though a nontraditional Syracuse University program and embarked on a new career that led her, among other positions, to a spot on the Syracuse Common Council and a job as assistant state attorney general.
When she told her kids that she was running for office, they weren't surprised. "They thought, 'It's just Mom,'" she says.
"But when I won and I came to Washington, I think it impressed them," she says, showing off a picture of her grandchildren, who each share her bright blond hair, standing on the Speaker's balcony.
Buerkle faces a tough year ahead. She'll meet Maffei in a rematch, one that could be complicated by state redistricting.
But she certainly sounds upbeat: "Just being given the opportunity to be a part of this body, to have a voice in the government, as difficult as a decision might be or a vote might be, still you are part of a process. And it really is such an honor."
Correction: Dec. 6
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the New York Republican wears pink heels.