Political InQueery: Know the Women in Congress, Part I
A record number of women—262, in all—ran campaigns for the House in the 2010 midterm elections. Despite this wave of women, fewer will be in the House once the 112th Congress begins than were in the 111th. 75 women will take their seats in the voting body, many of them for the first time. Here is a look at several first-year Representatives. On the Senate side, 36 women ran campaigns—also a record—and four were elected, keeping the total for women in the Senate at 17. There will be, notably, no African-American Senators when the new Congress begins in January. What issues will the newest female members of Congress bring with them and what might it mean for feminist political strategists and women?
Representative-Elect Sandra Adams (R) beat out incumbent Suzanne Kosmos in Florida. Adams has been a state representative and is also a former sheriff. In her campaign she brought up many of the talking points in common usage among GOP operatives—calling Kosmos a tax-and-spend liberal, and calling for an end to four years of "off track" governing in the House. Adams is endorsed by the Republican National Coalition for Life. Although she has this endorsement, she's expected to focus on other issues, like rolling back this year's health care reform and immigration policy.
Representative-Elect Karen Bass (D, photo at left) will be filling a seat vacated by another Democrat, Diane Watson, to serve for California's 33rd District. She was the first female African-American state assembly speaker in any state in the country. Women's Policy.org anticipates that she will make health care, foster care reform, and expanding opportunities for youth her priorities.
Representative-Elect Diane Black (R) comes to the House with experience in the Tennessee legislature, as a Senator and an Assemblywoman. Her service had a rocky moment when an aide in her legislative office circulated an email depicting a "portrait" of President Obama as a black frame with two white eyeballs hovering in the frame. Although Black denounced the email publicly, several organizations and individuals called for the aide to be terminated. Black insisted that he was punished in compliance with her office's HR policy. Experts expect that she will focus on health care, as she has a nursing background.
Renee Ellmers (R, in the top photo) fought a close race against incumbent Bob Etheridge for North Carolina's 2nd District, and as of November 4, leads with only 1,600 votes. As per the state's election laws, Etheridge is entitled to a recount if the lead is less than 1,800-some votes, and he has requested such a recount. If Ellmers keeps her lead and is elected, she says she will prioritize health care, but her campaign also focused strongly on family values, Federal spending, and Second Amendment rights. She was personally endorsed by Sarah Palin and was charged with running offensive, anti-Muslim ads during the election cycle.
Representative-Elect Colleen Hanabusa (D) ousted incumbent Charles Djou, who had only held the Hawaiian post since a special election in May 2010. She will vacate her state senate post to come to Washington, DC. A labor attorney, Hanabusa has said she will make health care policy, education, and the economy her top priorities.
Representative-Elect Vicky Hartzler (R) won the seat against incumbent Ike Skelton, one of the conservative Democratic "Blue Dogs," for Missouri's 4th District. Claiming to have been called by God to run for state office (not sure about Congress), Hartzler assailed Skelton for being weak on national security. She is expected to make education and agriculture her main issues.
Representative-Elect Nan Hayworth (R) defeated her incumbent in the 19th District in New York, after lots of push back from conservative Republicans over her pro-choice stance on abortion and her OB/GYN husband. An ophthalmologist by training, she is expected to focus on health care, education, and the economy.
Representative-Elect Jaime Herrera (R) beat out another Democratic incumbent in Washington's 3rd District. She is a former staffer for the very conservative Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers who handily won re-election on Tuesday, also in Washington state. Herrera's top issues are expected to be government accountability, health care, and the economy.
Representative-Elect Kristi Noem (R) won against Democratic incumbent Stephanie Herseth Sandlin by only two percent of the vote, for South Dakota's only congressional seat. She has been the Assistant Majority Leader in that state's legislature, and with a ranching and farming past, is anticipated to prioritize agriculture.
Representative-Elect Martha Roby (R) defeated incumbent Bobby Bright in another close race, this one in Alabama's 2nd District. A self-described conservative, Roby even launched a campaign ad attacking Bright for, of all things, voting to install Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. She also campaigned on her history as a Montgomery City Councilwoman on making it tougher for businesses and landlords to "harbor" undocumented workers. Less clear is what kind of threat they pose to Montgomery. Women's Policy expects that Roby will focus on defense issues and immigration reform, in addition to health care reform.
Representative-Elect Terry Sewell (D) Sewell survived a run-off primary election to win on Tuesday and become Alabama's first African-American Congresswoman, taking the seat in the district covering Birmingham. A partner in one of Birmingham's largest law firms, Sewell mentioned several times in her campaign that she wanted to "give back" to the community where she grew up. Endorsed by every Democrat under the sun, including President Obama, she is expected to be a progressive stalwart, focusing on preventing domestic violence, education, and health care.
Representative-Elect Frederica Wilson (D) kept Florida's 17th District in Democratic hands as it was vacated by Kendrick Meek. She wins the award for Congresswoman with the biggest love for hats. Endorsed by EMILY's List, Wilson has said she will prioritize criminal justice reform and education.
Although these women state similar priorities in general, they will of course approach these topics with different strategies and with different, probably conflicting, goals in mind. John Boehner, the expected new Speaker of the House, today tried to tone down Senate Minority Mitch McConnell's call for voters to oust President Obama in 2012 so that the White House won't use veto power to stop GOP bills in the pipeline. It's Boehner's job to soften the stance, just as it is McConnell's job to act as the right guard resisting a tax-happy Democratic-led Senate. What will be interesting will be to see which of these new Congresswomen vote along party lines, who they buddy up with as mentors in their own parties, and when they insist on making independent choices.
I'll go out on a limb here and say that I expect Nancy Pelosi will become the Democratic Leader, because she has the working relationship with the White House and John Boehner, and is a master of whipping votes. Two days after the election, it may be too soon and she may announce she will not seek her peers' votes, but behind closed doors she has impressed her colleagues and even dyed-in-the-wool GOP operatives admit she crafted very productive sessions in the House. Republicans will want to show that they can get legislation through, too, so we may see some lively debate next spring as both sides tackle the stubborn unemployment rates in the U.S.
What do all of you think of these new Congresswomen? If they're your new Representative, what do you want them to take up in the next session?
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