History will be made on Thursday morning with the US Capitol serving as a backdrop as Nancy Pelosi is sworn in as the first woman Speaker of the House. Pelosi was unanimously elected Speaker last November to serve in this position that is third-in-line to the Presidency.
But what is being touted as “The Year of the Democratic Woman” extends far beyond this important victory.
Minnesota elected Amy Klobuchar as its first-ever female Senator. Klobuchar ran as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidate, and joins newly elected Senate colleagues Jon Tester, Sherrod Brown, Jim Webb and Bernie Sanders in winning on an economic populist platform.
Anti-war candidate Carol Shea-Porter is the first woman ever elected by New Hampshire to represent the state in Congress. She too ran on a populist message in a solidly Republican district, and spoke out strongly against the war and for accountability and oversight, particularly with regard to war profiteering.
In all, eleven Democratic women will serve in the Senate and fifty in the House.
In the Senate, Barbara Boxer is the new Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman. As I noted in a previous post, Sen. Boxer is a welcome change from global warming denier James Inhofe – a breath of fresh air, one might say (bad pun, but true nonetheless). Only four women have previously served as chairs of Senate committees prior to Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (who will now chair the Rules and Administration Committee). And Sen. Patty Murray (WA) will become the fourth-ranking Democrat in the Senate as the newly elected conference secretary.
In the House, no woman has chaired a committee since 1997 and, thankfully, that pitiful streak now comes to an end. Representatives Louise Slaughter, Nydia Velazquez and Stephanie Tubbs Jones – all members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) – will respectively chair the Rules Committee, Small Business Committee, and Ethics Committee. Other leadership positions are still being determined.
It should be noted too that the CPC – the largest caucus in Congress – is chaired by Representatives Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee (who have been at the forefront of opposition to the war and leaders in finding a more just path to security), and it includes other strong and tested progressives like Jan Schakowsky, Sheila Jackson-Lee, and Maxine Waters. In fact, 22 of the 64 CPC members in the last Congress were women and that number is expected to rise in the new Congress.
If the 110th Congress is to fulfill its mandate for change it will do so in no small measure through the new and much overdue leadership of Democratic Women. Now let’s just hope that the history-making Speaker reflects the Nancy Pelosi who often scored 100 on progressive scorecards, not the equivocating Nancy Pelosi who failed to gain the endorsement of her hometown newspaper.