All-Women State Delegation Among Firsts in More Diverse Congress

Friday, 04 Jan 2013 06:46 AM

 

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New Hampshire’s all-female congressional delegation -- the first in history -- is among the fresh cracks in the “marble ceiling” that Nancy Pelosi described six years ago when she became the first woman chosen as speaker of the U.S. House.

With the swearing-in yesterday of two women House members - - Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster, both Democrats -- New Hampshire became the first state to have an all-woman congressional delegation. The state is represented in the Senate by Republican Kelly Ayotte and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.

The 113th Congress also includes a record seven openly gay lawmakers and an unprecedented 20 women senators, including the chamber’s first lesbian, Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, and its first Buddhist, Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono. Also for the first time, women and minorities hold a majority of the Democratic Party’s House seats.

“We’re making progress -- 20 and counting,” Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who was sworn in to a second term, said in an interview. “I don’t think we should be satisfied until we have the same number of women in the Senate that represent a percentage of the population.”

Pelosi, a California Democrat who in 2007 became the first woman speaker and is now minority leader, gathered on the steps of the Capitol yesterday morning with many of the other 60 House Democratic women lawmakers, the most ever.

House Committees

In an interview with CNN, Pelosi pointed out that more than half of the top Democrats on House committees were women or minorities.

“It is not only that people have a seat at the table, they have a seat at the head of the table,” she said.

Nineteen of the 84 freshman House members are women --three Republicans and 16 Democrats. The incoming Senate has four times as many female Democrats compared with their Republican counterparts -- 16 to 4.

Women voters, 53 percent of the electorate, backed President Barack Obama over Republican nominee Mitt Romney, 55 percent to 44 percent, on Nov. 6, according to exit polls. The number of Democratic women in the Senate and House increased, while the tally of Republican women in both chambers declined.

The Senate also has become more racially diverse with the addition of South Carolina’s Tim Scott, the chamber’s only black member and the first black Republican congressman from the deep South since the 1890s.

Chosen by Governor

Scott, formerly a one-term House member, was chosen last month by Governor Nikki Haley to replace Republican Jim DeMint, who resigned his seat to lead the Heritage Foundation, a Republican-leaning group in Washington.

The swearing-in yesterday of Texas Republican Ted Cruz brings to three the number of Hispanic senators. Cruz joins New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez and Florida Republican Marco Rubio.

The incoming Congress also includes a hate-crime victim beaten with a baseball bat, a double amputee, a former homeless man who lived in a park, and a member so poor growing up that she had no running water or electricity. Those four will serve alongside Robert F. Kennedy’s grandson, whose path into politics couldn’t have been more different.

Joe Kennedy, a Democrat whose grandfather, father, great- uncles and cousin served in Congress, is a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School. He most recently was an assistant district attorney for Middlesex County, Massachusetts.

Childhood Poverty

Kennedy will serve alongside Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat whose family faced poverty at times in her childhood, forcing them at one point to move into an abandoned gasoline station without electricity or running water.

From that start, she went on to obtain bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and law degrees; wrote a book, “Unite and Conquer: How to Build Coalitions That Win and Last,” published in 2009; and was elected to the Arizona state Senate. She is the first openly bisexual member of Congress and is, according to a report by the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the first lawmaker to specify “none” when asked for religious affiliation.

“The rich and powerful have a voice -- trust me, I get badgered by their lobbyists all the time,” she said on her campaign website. “It’s the rest of us who are now not getting heard because of the special interests. There are three words I vow to never forget: ‘We the people.’”

Two freshmen House members stand out for their military service and sacrifice. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, lost both legs after her helicopter was shot down in Iraq in 2004. In 2011 she raced the Chicago Marathon in a hand-cycle wheelchair, finishing in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 26 seconds.

Military Service

Republican Paul Cook of California had a 26-year career in the Marine Corps, retiring with the rank of colonel. After graduating from college in 1966, he attended Officer Candidate School and was sent to Vietnam, where he led an infantry platoon and was awarded a Bronze Star for valor and two Purple Hearts for combat injuries.

Another freshman who, like Sinema, has faced housing challenges is Steve Stockman, a Texas Republican who previously was elected in 1994 and served a single term. A Michigan native, Stockman dropped out of junior college, moved to Texas in 1979 and spent a brief period of homelessness in a park in Fort Worth before settling in Houston.

By contrast, a fellow member of the Texas delegation, Democrat Beto O’Rourke, enjoyed the life of a rock ’n’ roll musician in his early 20s. He was a singer and guitarist in the band Foss, which toured North America in the summers of 1993 and 1994 and released two records, “The El Paso Pussycats” and the album “Fewel St.”

Former Magician

Now, the former rocker from El Paso is concerned with getting more Customs and Border Patrol officers “so that we can get people through our bridges more quickly and still securely,” he said.

Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, also was an entertainer in college, using his sleight-of-hand skills as a magician to earn money for his tuition. He said he became open about his sexuality after being beaten with a baseball bat upon leaving a gay bar, an incident that inspired him to get active in politics.

These freshmen all are entering Congress at a time of increased polarization by the political parties.

“The overwhelming number of members are getting elected from districts that vote with one party, so they don’t have room to maneuver,” said Virginia Republican Tom Davis, a former congressman who was chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee and is now director of federal government affairs at Deloitte & Touche LLP. “You may be able to find your niche that reflects your interests, but it will be limited.”


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