Last week, we introduced you to the newest women in the Senate as well as those who began serving late in the Clinton Administration. This week, we get to have–dare we say–a senior moment with the women who have been serving in the senate long enough to wield power on their committees, from recently re-elected third-termers Susan Collins and Mary Landrieu to the women who were there when Anita Hill spoke, including the Lioness of the Senate, Barbara Mikulski.
Susan Collins (56, R-ME) worked for Maine Senator William Cohen from 1975-1987, then ran for and won his seat when he retired in 1996; in November, she was re-elected to a third term with over 61% of the vote. Collins had originally promised to serve only two terms, but told the Lewiston Sun-Journal in 2006 that she would run for a third term because "I've found that I really underestimated the importance of seniority…. At the time, I thought that 12 years, that two terms, would be enough. This was at the height of what I would call the frenzy over term limits."
Collins is an old-school Republican who concentrates on fiscal and defense issues. As ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Collins was a long-time supporter of the Iraq war from its outset and favors military tribunals for terrorists. Like most Republicans, she favors lowering the inheritance tax, but is in favor of tax increases for families earning over $1 million per year. That last point, and her positions on the environment and gay rights, paint her as one of the more liberal members of her party.
Collins was one of 34 Senators to vote against the confirmation of Timothy Geithner as Commerce Secretary, a position she explained last Monday to Andrea Mitchell.
Mary Landrieu (53, D-LA) also won election to her third term in November. She gained national fame during the response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when she took George Stephanopolous on a helicopter tour of the flooded region. When they reached the 17th Street Bridge, where'd she seen a full federal disaster team the day before while touring with President Bush, "It was like you had gone to a studio in California and filmed a movie. They put the props up and the minute we were gone they took them down," she told Karl Rove biographer Paul Alexander. "All the dump trucks were gone. All the Coast Guard people were gone. It was an empty spot with one little crane." (Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano yesterday announced a comprehensive review of the post-Katrina recovery in Louisiana and Mississippi, to be completed by February 24.)
Landrieu is on the right wing of Democratic party; she received the highest rating of any Senate Dem from the American Conservative Union in 2007, earning higher marks than Maine's Republican Senators, Collins and Snowe. She has a 75% rating from the ACLU and near 50-50 ratings from both NARAL and the National Right to Life Committee.
Landrieu has done little to reform Louisiana's reputation for political corruption, however. Bipartisan group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington tagged her as one of the twenty "most corrupt members of Congress" for earmarking $2 million for an untested literacy program mere days after the publisher threw her a fundraiser.
(61, R-ME) began her political career in the early 1970s as a staffer
for then-congressman Richard Cohen. She served in the state
legislature, entered the U.S. House in 1978, and won a landslide
election to the Senate in 1994. Her position as a moderate led the Club for Growth
to deem her a "Republican in Name Only" and air attack ads against her
in 2003 after she helped lead the fight to halve the Bush
administration's tax cuts.
However, Time magazine named
her as one of the Senate's "ten best" in 2006, saying, "Because of her
centrist views and eagerness to get beyond partisan
point scoring, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe is in the center of every
policy debate in Washington." That skill should serve her not only
as founder of the Republican Main Street Partnership and ranking
member of the Small Business Committee, but in the "postpartisan"
emphasis on effective government promised by the new administration.
Kay Bailey Hutchison (65, R-TX) won her third term in 2006 and had been considered a likely vice-president for John McCain until she publicly turned down the position, but she may still be leaving the Senate before her term expires in 2012. She recently re-affirmed that she intends to run for Governor of Texas against incumbent Rick Perry in 2010.
"I'm going to try my best to stay out of legislative issues," she told the Dallas Morning News two weeks ago, but she must have meant the Texas "Lege" rather than Capitol Hill. Though she did vote for the Lilly Ledbetter act, Hutchison had proposed an amendment that would start the statute of limitations clock at the moment an employee knows or "should know"–a murky distinction that could see cases declared as having been filed too late–that she had been discriminated against. She is also one of the Republicans on point to oppose the Obama Administration's economic stimulus plan, and went on Meet the Press yesterday to argue the case.
Patty Murray (58, D-WA) was first elected Senator in 1992, "the year of the woman," when she filled the open seat left by Brock Adams, who had resigned rather than face her in a primary. Adams, a first term senator, left politics in disgrace after being accused by eight women of offenses from sexual harassment to rape. Murray's career in politics before reaching the Senate had lastedless than a decade.
Inspired to run for her local school board in 1985 by a state senator who had called her "just a mom in tennis shoes," Murray won her own seat in the state senate four years later, and was swept into the U.S. Senate on a wave of outrage at Adams's behavior and the treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings. Her early priorities were education and health care, but she has emerged as one of the strongest voices for port security and cargo container inspections in post-9/11 Washington. (Her SAFE Ports Act, co-authored with Susan Collins, was finally signed by President Bush in 2006 after years of partisan blockades.)
She has not abandoned the cause of health care, however. Last week, she spoke in favor of re-funding and expanding the Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) vetoed by President Bush in the 110th congress.
Barbara Boxer (68, D-CA) drew national attention when she and the other women of Congress stormed the Senate Judiciary Committee. Inside the chamber, Anita Hill was being subjected to offensive questioning as she testified at the confirmation hearings of now-Justice Clarence Thomas. A pioneer and leader on issues from the environment to women's health, Boxer was co-author of the Violence Against Women Act and author of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.
In 2009, we've seen Senator Boxer, chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, welcoming President Obama's environmental initiatives and schooling Chris Matthews of MSNBC, as an expert on the Foreign Relations Committee, about how national security is damaged by the Pentagon's policies against lesbian and gay military personnel.
Dianne Feinstein (75, D-CA), to some of the millions who watched the inauguration of Barack Obama was just a gracious woman with glasses introducing each speaker and performer who participated in the ceremony. Californians, though, saw "Dianne"—who first broke barriers in 1969 when she was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and ten years later hit the national spotlight in a moment now featured in the Oscar-nominated film Milk, when she broke the news that fellow supervisor Harvey Milk and mayor George Moscone had been assassinated.
Since she became Senator in 1992, Feinstein has risen steadily in its ranks, most recently becoming chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Feinstein has also long been visible at the
Senate Judiciary Committee, where she led the fight to ban the
manufacture and sale of military-style assault weapons and now chairs its Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security Subcommittee. This week, Feinstein began to introduce legislation that sets forth the terms for the closure of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
Barbara Mikulski (72, D-MD), chief sponsor of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, made the choice very simple for employers (and future Supreme Court Justices): “If you don’t want to be sued, don’t discriminate.” After 30-plus years in Washington, Mikulski rarely minces her words: last year she made headlines at a fundraiser for then-presidential-candidate Hillary Clinton by calling members of the news media “the petulant parsing
pundits” for their sexist coverage.
Like President Obama, Mikulski began her political life as a community organizer, when she "organized neighbors to stop construction of a 16-lane highway that
would have destroyed the historic Fells Point district and an area of
houses owned by blacks." Next came the Baltimore City Council, and then in 1976 the U.S. Congress and the Senate ten years later. Now, Mikulski characterizes her role as the dean of Senate women, "serving as a mentor to other women Senators when they first take
office" and "build[ing] coalitions – proving that the Senate
women are not solo acts, but work together to get things done."
It's a spirit she carries to the next generation of powerful women, such as Maryland's Women Fired Up for Change.