Maximpact Blog

American Voters Fill Congress With Female Firsts

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Elizabeth Cheney, Nanette Barragán, Ilhan Omar and Pramila Jayapal. Images taken from their campaign sites.

By Sunny Lewis

WASHINGTON, DC, November 26, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Republican Donald Trump laid claim to the prize of President-elect earlier this month, accompanied by a Republican sweep of both Houses of Congress, so one might think the United States is united in its political will. Not so.

While President-elect Trump – who has often publicly denigrated women, threatened to punish women as criminals for having abortions, and has, by his own admission on tape, grabbed women’s privates without asking – consolidates his power and plans his strategies, the incoming Congress is brimming with strong females who are already first in some important way.

During the 2016 election, history was not made at the presidential level, although a ballot recount in three states, funded by the crowdsourcing efforts of Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein, has a small chance of changing the outcome. That could happen only if all three states – Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan – are found to have elected Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump.

The number of women in Congress will remain static at 104 or 19 percent – 78 Democrats and 26 Republicans. In the Senate, a record number of 21 women will serve, 16 Democrats and five Republicans, one more than in the past two Congresses.

That’s far less than the overall American population, which is half female.

The only landmark for women’s participation is the election to Congress of more women of color than ever before, finds the Center for American Women and Politics  at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey.

The incoming Congress is set to be the most racially diverse in history.

A total of 38 women of color will serve in the 115th Congress. Nine newly-elected women of color, all Democrats, will enter Congress on January 3, 2017 – three in the Senate and six in the House.

Powerful Women Ascend to the Senate

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Catherine Cortez Masto is the first woman elected to represent Nevada and first Latina elected to serve in the United States Senate. (Photo courtesy Catherine Cortez Masto) Posted for media use.

Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, elected to the U.S. Senate from Nevada to replace outgoing Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, has chalked up two firsts. She is the first woman elected to represent Nevada and first Latina elected to serve in the United States Senate.

She is one of two women who come to the Senate directly from serving as attorney general in their states. Cortez Masto was the Attorney General of Nevada from 2007 to 2015, where she worked for women and children.

As attorney general,” she has said, “I made protecting Nevada women my top priority and I won’t stop until paycheck fairness is a reality for all women.

Kamala Harris will be one of two U.S. senators representing California, and she comes to the Senate directly from six years as California’s attorney general.

Back in 2010, Harris was the first female, the first African-American, and the first Indian-American person to become attorney general in California.

Born in Oakland, California, Harris is the daughter of an Indian-American mother, a breast cancer specialist who immigrated from India in 1960, and a Jamaican-American father, a Stanford University economics professor.

Harris has been an outspoken proponent for gun control her entire career. While serving as district attorney in Alameda County Harris recruited other district attorneys and filed a brief in court arguing that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not protect an individual’s right to own firearms.

In 2009, Harris wrote “Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer,” where she looks at criminal justice from an economic perspective and attempts to reduce temptation and access for criminals. The book goes through a series of “myths” surrounding the criminal justice system and presents proposals to reduce and prevent crime.

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Tammy Duckworth, the first female double amputee from the Iraq war, is moving into the Senate from the House of Representatives. (Photo courtesy U.S. Institute of Peace) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Tammy Duckworth, the first female double amputee from the Iraq war, is not new to Congress. She is moving into the Senate from the House of Representatives where she has fought for veterans’ rights, as she has always done. “Serving my fellow Veterans is my life’s work,” she says.

Duckworth is the first military veteran elected to the Senate as a Democrat. She joins holdover Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, the first woman veteran elected to the Senate.

Born in Bangkok, Thailand, Duckworth lost her right leg near the hip and her left leg below the knee from injuries sustained on November 12, 2004, when the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents.

I know what it’s like to fight for your life behind enemy lines and I know what it’s like to not be left behind,” Duckworth said on the campaign trail. “If you elect me to the Senate I’ll be guided by the simple notion that if you don’t give up on yourself, America won’t give up on you. I will fight for every kid trying to pay for college, for every small business trying to grow, and for every family working hard just trying to catch a break.

Then there’s Senator-elect from New Hampshire, Margaret “Maggie” Hassan, who is the current Governor of the State of New Hampshire.

A Democrat, Hassan defeated incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte in a close race considered one of the most competitive of the year. It is the first time this Senate seat has been won by a Democrat for more than 40 years.

Hassan will serve with Senator Jeanne Shaheen; both politicians have served as New Hampshire Governor prior to unseating an incumbent senator.

Hassan has said climate change and reproductive rights would be her top priorities if elected to the Senate.

New Hampshire will once again be represented by an all women congressional delegation, as it was 2013-2015, with two women in the Senate and two in the House. All of the Granite State women are Democrats.

 When the 115th Congress opens in January, female representation in the House will drop slightly. The number of women will go from 84 to 83 as a result of the retirement of 11 female lawmakers, some of whom are being replaced by men.

A record number of 108 women currently serve in the 114th Congress, which opened in January 2015, seven more than at the beginning of the 113th Congress, which opened January 2013 at the beginning of President Barack Obama’s second term

Americans elected three new Republican Congresswomen to the House of Representatives, and two in this freshman class are also first in some important way.

Elizabeth Cheney is the first daughter of a former U.S. vice president to be elected to Congress. Congresswoman-elect Cheney is the elder daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who served in the George W. Bush administration. She won Wyoming’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Liz Cheney held several positions in the U.S. State Department during the George W. Bush administration. Cheney headed the Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group, established in March 2006, a unit within the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

She is a co-founder of Keep America Safe, a nonprofit group founded in 2009, whose key aim appears to be to pressure the United States to remain in a state of constant military mobilization.

Before law school, Cheney worked for the State Department and for the U.S. Agency for International Development, as a USAID officer in U.S. embassies in Budapest and Warsaw. After graduating, Cheney practiced law in the private sector and as an international law attorney and consultant at the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group.

In January 2012, Cheney was hired as a contributor for Fox News, providing analysis for the Republican primaries and serving as substitute host of Fox News’ programs.

On November 8, Republican Jenniffer González, 40, became the first woman and youngest person to be elected as Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in the U.S. Congress.

An attorney, González comes to the House of Representatives from three prominent roles: as Minority Leader of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, as vice-chair of the PNP, and as chairwoman of the Puerto Rico Republican Party.

At the age of 32, she was elected House Speaker by members of her New Party for Progress delegation, becoming the youngest person in Puerto Rican history to be elected Speaker of the House.

Republican Claudia Tenney comes to the House from New York’s 22nd district in the central part of the state.

 Currently an Assemblywoman in the New York State Legislature, she is the daughter of the late Judge John R. Tenney, who served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of New York from 1969 through 2003.

 Tenney says she wants “to unleash free market principles by getting big government off our backs.” She opposes Obamacare and has signed a pledge to oppose all tax increases in Congress.

On the Democrat side of the aisle, Congresswoman-elect Nanette Barragán is the youngest of 11 children raised by immigrants from Mexico. Barragán beat the odds and put herself through University of California at Los Angeles and University of Southern California Law School.

Barragán has worked as a community advocate in Los Angeles. In Washington, she worked in President Bill Clinton’s White House and then at the NAACP – focusing on racial and social justice issues.

 She stood up to the big oil companies to keep them from drilling in neighborhoods and on beaches. In Congress, Barragán has pledged to keep up the fight to protect air and water.

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Democrat Valdez Venita “Val” Demings was elected to the House of Representatives from Orlando, Florida. She served as Chief of the Orlando Police Department, the first woman to hold the position. (Photo by RotaryDistrict6980) Posted for media use.

Democrat Valdez Venita “Val” Demings was elected to the House from Orlando, Florida. A police officer, she served as Chief of the Orlando Police Department, the first woman to hold the position.

As Orlando’s Police Chief, her holistic approach and leadership led to a 40 percent drop in violent crime. She founded Operation Positive Direction, a mentoring program that empowers at-risk students through tutoring, community service, and positive incentives.

Democrat Pramila Jayapal is the first Indian-American woman to serve in the House of Representatives and the first woman to represent Washington’s largest city, Seattle, in Congress.

 Jayapal was born in Chennai, India to a Tamil family and raised in Indonesia and Singapore. She came to the United States in 1982, at the age of 16, to attend college. She graduated from Georgetown University, and earned an MBA from Northwestern University. She became a U.S. citizen in the year 2000.

Jayapal founded Hate Free Zone after the 2001 September 11 attacks as an advocacy group for immigrant groups. Hate Free Zone registered new American citizens to vote and lobbied on immigration reform. They successfully sued the Bush Administration’s Immigration and Naturalization Services to prevent the deportation of over 4,000 Somalis.

The group changed its name to OneAmerica in 2008. Jayapal stepped down from her leadership position in May 2012. In 2013 she was recognized by the White House as a “Champion of Change.”

Democrat Stephanie Murphy is making history as the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to Congress. She is a business consultant, professor, and former national security specialist from the state of Florida.

Born in 1978 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Murphy currently lives in Winter Park, Florida. She works as an executive at Sungate Capital, where she leads investment efforts and implements government affairs initiatives. She also teaches business and social entrepreneurship at Rollins College.

Murphy has said that in Congress she will be a strong advocate for environmental protection, for clean air and water, and for smart investments in green energy that reduce dependence on fossil fuels and make energy affordable for Florida families.

 Democrat Jacky Rosen, a computer software developer who cares about the environment, was elected to the House from Nevada’s largest city, Las Vegas.

She sees the seat as providing, “opportunities to invest in solar and renewable energy, protect our environment and reduce utility bills.” She also sees educational opportunities that will create a prepared workforce to attract business and investment, as well as opportunities “to protect our seniors and their retirement.

A leader in her synagogue, Rosen supports programs that provide meals and housing to the homeless.

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Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester, center, will be the first woman and the first person of color to represent Delaware in the halls of Congress. Campaigning June 26, 2016. (Photo courtesy Lisa Blunt Rochester campaign) posted for media use.

Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester is the member-elect for the House seat representing Delaware’s at-large congressional district.  She is the first woman and the first person of color to represent Delaware in the halls of Congress.

Rochester grew up in Wilmington, majored in International Relations at Fairleigh Dickinson University and later earned a Master’s in Urban Affairs and Public Policy from the University of Delaware.

Believing that national security requires a strong understanding of the rest of the world has helped women enter the workforce in the Middle East, provided vaccines to children in Africa, and co-authored a book while living in China with her late husband Charles. Her book, “THRIVE: 34 Women, 19 Countries, One Goal,” profiles women who reinvented themselves while living in a foreign country.

On the state level, too, women of color are carving out places for themselves.

Former Somali refugee and executive director of the Minneapolis group Women Organizing Women Network , Ilhan Omar, for instance, has won the Democratic seat for Minnesota House Representative, District 60B.

She is the first Somali-American, Muslim woman in the nation to hold an office at this level.

The WOW Network aims to empower all women, specifically first–generation and second-generation immigrants, to become engaged citizens and community leaders.

Omar holds degrees in business administration, political science and international studies. She completed a Policy Fellowship at University Of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and she has served on numerous nonprofit boards.

Committed to unity and justice, Omar is focused on advancing issues such as raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, closing the opportunity gap, and fighting for environmental justice and racial equity.

 Omar last week spoke out against hate. “Somehow, we must confront the racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia that plagues this country,” she said. “There are no easy answers, but we must find ways to try to end this cycle of hate.


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