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Archive for Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Congress that convenes today is slightly more diverse

January 7, 2003

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— A record 22 Hispanics will be sworn into the House of Representatives today, and there will be 37 blacks, one more than last year. But despite the slightly greater diversity, Congress remains far more white and male than the people it writes laws for.

There are no blacks or Hispanics in the 100-member Senate, nor are there any black Republicans in the House after Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts retired last year. But an unprecedented 14 women will be in the Senate in 2003, joined by 60 women in the House, the same as in 2002.

Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski's appointment last month of his daughter, Lisa, to the remainder of his Senate term in Washington gives that chamber one more female member than it had last year.

About 51 percent of the U.S. population is female, compared with 14 percent of the House and 14 percent of the Senate. Republican Ginny Brown-Waite, who defeated U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Fla., said some women may be turned off from entering politics by the nasty tone that can characterize campaigns.

"When I meet smart, articulate women, I encourage them to run, but I tell them it's not for the faint of heart," she said. "You have to have a very thick skin and a sense of humor and a burning flame to want to serve."

The 37 blacks in the House compares with a record 39 blacks there from 1993 through 1996. Still, only 8.5 percent of the House is black and only 5 percent is Hispanic. Hispanics and blacks each make up 12 percent of the U.S. population.

The freshman class will include several familiar Washington family names. In addition to Murkowski, other new senators with politically famous fathers are Mark Pryor, D-Ark., the son of former Sen. David Pryor, and John E. Sununu, whose father, John H. Sununu, served as New Hampshire governor and chief of staff to the first President Bush.

North Carolina Republican Elizabeth Dole is the only new senator who has never been elected to office before, but she's no stranger to government. She served as secretary of transportation under President Reagan and secretary of labor under the first President Bush and is the wife of one-time Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. She joins Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., whose husband, Bill Clinton, defeated Bob Dole in the 2000 presidential election.

Two congressmen are returning to a job they gave up -- Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who retired at the end of 2000 but made another run after Sen. Bob Torricelli dropped out of his re-election race, and Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., who served 12 years in the House before he left in an unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 1994.

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