The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on May 11, 1997 · Page 44
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 44

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Salina, Kansas
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Sunday, May 11, 1997
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Page 44
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Mothers' day in Congress 1*s From flex time to health care, the nation's priorities are being set by a new kind of legislator: the working mom. By Cokie and Steve Roberts ====== CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Dear Mont: On your special day, thanks for all the speeches yon \>e made and the laws you 've passed. Y OU WON'T FIND a card with that inscription at your local drugstore. Yet. But on Mother's Day, it's worth noting this fact: for the first time in our history, a significant number of mothers occupy seats at the table of political power. Nowhere is the trend more visible than on Capitol Hill. Today there are a record 53 women in the House of Representatives and nine in the Senate — triple the total of 20 serving in 1979, and twice the 31 in office at the start of this decade. A growing number are working moms: Currently, two female senators and 10 representatives have kids under 18. In more than 200 years, only four women hav.e given birth while serving in Congress — three in the past two years. What a difference from 1972, when Colorado's Pat Schroeder was first elected to Congress and came to town with two children, ages 2 and 6. During her first term, she was invited to a White House church service conducted by the Rev. Billy Graham. Schroe- | Cokie Roberts is an ABC special correspondent and i co-hosl of 7/i/s Week. Her mother, Lindy Boggs, served 18 years in Congress. Steve Roberts appears regularly on PBS' Washington Week in Review, CNN's Late Edition and ABC Radio. He also is a correspondent for State of the Union, a public IV series tfiat this weekend reports on the changing roles of mothers. 4 USA WEEKEND • May 9-11,1997 R*p. IIMM Ros-UMteM, R-Fta., WtthAMMUhUcMto.U.MJ Patricia Martt, 8 (Mated). R*.EMMlNMClMr,D-CaHf, with Rep. Dtbonlt Piycff) R-OMo, i D> der was hardly a fan of President Nixon, and Sunday was an inconvenient time, but "out of respect for the presidency I sucked it up, dressed the kids and took off to church," she recalls. "But when I got there they said, 'No, no, no — this is not for families!' So I said, 'I guess we won't be coming, then.' " In state legislatures, where 21 percent of members are female, the trend is even more pronounced. Debbie Walsh, of the Center for the American Woman and Politics at Rutgers, says she can't convene a meeting of state lawmakers anymore without providing day care. "The pattern had been for women to run for office after the children were grown," she says. "Now there are younger women running for office as part of their career path, just as men do. You see pictures of them getting sworn in with babies in their arms." Women participate in every debate in Congress, from farm prices to military hardware. But they say they also have a special role: forcing their male colleagues to pay attention to issues some otherwise would avoid. History has taught a hard lesson to women on Capitol Hill: If they don't do it, it often doesn't get done. THE EXPERIENCE OF motherhood has profoundly influenced how many of these women view their jobs. And with the nation's agenda turning away from the Cold War to issues of work and family, the perspective of mothers in Congress is more central than ever. For example: After Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J.. had to quit school to nurse a child through a serious illness, she became an ardent advocate of family- leave policies. After Rep. Connie Morella's sister died of breast cancer — and Morella adopted her sister's six kids — the Maryland Republican took up the cause of breast cancer research. Sen. Mary Lan- COVER AND COVER STORY PHOTOGRAPH BYTHEO WESTENBERGER FOR USA WEEKEND Mark Harmon photo on cu»e< o* Sandra Johnson for USA WEEKEND Rep. SIMM Moiiiurl, R.-N.V..WWI SIMM RMfcft !• D<U.,ttttllCtMMr,5. R«p. Cynthia McKlniMy, ., MttfcCoy.it- drieu, D-La., whose 5-year-old is in preschool, is focusing on an overhaul of the school lunch program. "I can relate to the mom who's standing at the bus stop at 5 a.m. with her baby, because I've been there," says Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D- Ga,, a single mother of an 11-year-old. Not all women, of course, or all mothers agree on all issues. And they still encounter hostility from voters who think they should stay home. After a bruising campaign last fall, Landrieu concluded: "There is still a double standard. A man can run for the Senate with four little kids and never be asked what happens to them, but a woman in exactly the same situation is asked constantly." Like most working mothers, congressional mothers feel guilty much of the time, stressed out and stretched thin by demanding schedules. The legislative calendar is still run by older men who don't worry much about having dinner with their children or checking their homework. Rep. Ileana Ros- Lehtinen, R-FIa., is well known for her mad dashes to the air- port when a Brownie meeting is waiting back home. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., recalls one night when she returned home after a grueling day and received a call from her son, who was still back in her district and grappling with a math problem. In her state of exhaustion, Harman couldn't figure out the problem over the phone and told the boy to fax it to her. "The kid burst into tears," she recalls, "and said to me, 'My daddy is on a business trip, my mom's in Washington, and I have no parent.'" Soon thereafter, the Harmans moved to Washington. Of course, some young fathers in Congress also are arguing for a saner schedule that would let them spend more time with their kids. But few go as far as Rep. Bill Paxon, husband of Rep. Susan Molinari. (Both are New York Republicans.) He has a crib in his office for those evenings when the House stays in late and the baby sitter for their daughter, 1-year-old Susan Ruby, goes home early. DESPITE THESE OBSTACLES, the trend is irreversible, and it's directly connected to another trend in American politics: the gender gap. Since 1980, women have voted in greater numbers than men, and differently. In the last election, President Clinton actually lost the male vote to Bob Dole by one point, but a 16-point margin among women propelled him to an easy victory. Politicians can count, and with women emerging as a critical swing vote, men in both parties must pay more attention Of the 62 women in Congress, 85 percent are mothers. One In five of them has at least one child under 18. to their concerns — as both voters and legislators. Molinari sees a "phenomenal sea change" among her male colleagues. They now plead with her and other female members to campaign for them back home, and are constantly looking for causes that will appeal to female voters. "They're not running away from these issues; they're running toward them," she says. One example: The Senate unanimously urged the National Cancer Institute to recommend regular mammograms for women in their 40s. It was a small but important moment in 1992 when Patty Murray, D-Wash., ran for the Senate as "a mom in tennis shoes" and won a startling upset. Republican Lynn Martin, a single mother of two teenage girls when she served in the House, agrees being a mother actually can be a political asset these days, as voters look for practical problem solvers who know what their lives are really like. "If you have small children, everyone knows you can't be pampered," says Martin, who went on to become Labor secretary and now teaches at Northwestern. "You have to do certain things that aren't terribly pleasant." Mothers, she adds, are more grounded and less inflated than the average male politician. She tells of the first time she went to the White House. "I called my 10-year-old and said, 'Caroline, I went to the White House. I met the president. Isn't that something?' " The girl replied: " That's nice for you, Mom, but don't be late for car pool tomorrow.' " Continued on next page Women legislatures Women make up 11 percent ef Congress (House and Senate). Most state legislatures have a considerably higher percentage ef female members. Alabama Alaska Arizona Arkansas California Colorado Connecticut Delaware Florida Georgia Hawaii Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine Maryland Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Missouri Montana Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico New York North Carolina North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah Vermont Virginia Washington West Virginia Wisconsin Wyoming fcUl mm 5 8 33 23 26 35 52 15 37 39 12 24 46 28 31 49 13 16 48 55 45 34 61 19 44 35 13 20 132 18 30 39 29 24 29 15 23 31 39 22 19 18 33 16 58 21 57 20 31 16 1,586 mans 140 60 90 135 120 100 187 62 160 236 76 105 177 150 150 165 138 144 186 188 200 148 201 174 197 150 49 63 424 120 112 211 170 147 132 149 90 253 150 170 105 132 181 104 180 140 147 134 132 90 7/124 man 4 13 37 17 22 35 28 24 23 17 16 23 26 19 21 30 9 11 26 29 23 23 30 11 22 23 27 32 31 15 27 18 17 16 22 10 26 12 26 13 18 14 18 15 32 15 39 15 23 18 21 SOURCE: NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF STATE LEGISLATURES USA WEEKEND • May 9-11,1897 6

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