Is This the Year We’ll Get a Congress That Looks Like America?

This post is originally published on Vitamin W.  It is cross-posted with permission. Congress doesn’t look much like America. There aren’t many women -- just 17% of Congressmembers are female, in fact, and of those 90 congresswomen, just 24 are people of color. There aren’t many Hindus, amputees, lesbians, Latinas, or women veterans either. But in this election cycle, more women are running for office than anytime in recent history. If 87 of the 163 women nominees win their elections, women will comprise 20% of Congress, the largest rate increase since 1992. Furthermore, 2012’s nominees represent an unusually wide variety of backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, sexualities, and experiences. Here’s a sample of just ten of this year's 163 women nominees who aren’t your typical power-suit-and-pearls type. These women show a real diversity of thought, background, life story, and experience better represents the makeup of the United States. Tammy Baldwin Democrat U.S. Senate, Wisconsin Baldwin has served as U.S. Representative for Wisconsin’s 2nd congressional district since 1999. She is a leading advocate for universal health care and renewable energies and a voice for LGBT equality. As of 2011, she is one of four openly gay members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the first openly gay non-incumbent elected to congress. If she is elected this year, she will become the first openly lesbian or gay U.S. Senator. On gay marriage, Baldwin said,“There will not be a magic day when we wake up and it’s now O.K. to express ourselves publicly. We make that day by doing things publicly until it’s simply the way things are.” Suzan DelBene Democrat U.S. House of Representatives, Washington Coming from a financially unstable background, DelBene ultimately achieved success in the private sector; she was among one of the only women at the executive leadership level at Microsoft, served as CEO and president of Nimble Technology, and helped create the website On how her private sector experience relates to a future in politics, DelBene said, "To get the results and impact we want to see in the real world, you've got to know how the real world works." Val Demings Democrat U.S. House of Representatives, Florida An African-American woman with a background in law enforcement, Demings became the first female chief of police in Orlando. Under her leadership, she saw the city’s violent crime rate fall by 40%. She is the daughter of a janitor and a housekeeper. "I carry a 9-millimeter gun in my Dooney & Bourke that was a gift when I retired from the police department," Demings once said in an interview with Marie Claire.    

Tammy Duckworth


U.S. House of Representatives, Illinois

Duckworth is an Iraq war veteran and former U.S. Army helicopter pilot who lost

both her legs in Iraq. In an address at the DNC, Duckworth described the incident: “On November 12th, 2004, I was co-piloting my Blackhawk north of Baghdad when we started taking enemy fire. A rocket-propelled grenade hit our helicopter, exploding in my lap, ripping off one leg, crushing the other and tearing my right arm apart. But I kept trying to fly until I passed out. In that moment, my survival and the survival of my entire crew depended on all of us pulling together. And even though they were wounded themselves and insurgents were nearby, they refused to leave a fallen comrade behind. Their heroism is why I'm alive today.”

Tulsi Gabbard Democrat U.S. House of Representatives, Hawaii Gabbard is a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives and has a military and political background. At age 21, she was the youngest legislator ever elected in Hawaii. She served for the Hawaii Army National Guard and deployed to Iraq twice. She was elected to the Honolulu City Council Tenure. She hails from Leloaloa, American Samoa, and is a practicing Hindu. On her faith, Gabbard said, “I had the opportunity to study both Lord Krishna’s Bhagavad Gita and also the New Testament. And like Mahatma Gandhi, who also studied both the Gita and the teachings of Jesus Christ, I saw that the central message of both is that we can only be truly happy if we are using our life in the loving service of God and humanity. That is what I am trying to do in my life -- to actually apply the universal spiritual teaching of Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga." Michelle Lujan Grisham Democrat U.S. House of Representatives, New Mexico A lawyer and politician, Grisham has served in the New Mexico state cabinet and as Bernalillo County Commissioner. Her grandfather was the first Hispanic Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court. She is passionate about the rights of seniors and building an economy that supports all New Mexicans, and is a champion on women’s rights, calling the prevalence of wage discrimination “shameful” in 2012.   Mia Love Republican U.S. House of Representatives, Utah Love is of Haitian lineage, and was born In Brooklyn. First a flight attendant, then a housewife, she served two terms on the city council of Saratoga Springs, Utah, and also served as mayor, leading the city through a period of 1,700% population growth in a decade. Love has three children and leads running classes at her local rec center. She is a devout Mormon and is best known “for her conservative positions on limited government, increased citizen liberties and limited restraints on business.” She tells how her parents never took a handout, and asked her to do the same.   Martha McSally Republican U.S. House of Representatives, Arizona McSally, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, was the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat and the first woman to command a fighter squadron in combat in United States history. She also successfully overturned a military policy requiring U.S. servicewomen to wear a Muslim abaya and headscarf off base in Saudi Arabia. In 2004, the Women’s Studies Advisory Council at the University of Arizona recognized McSally as one of three “Women Who Lead." In addition to her decorated military career, McSally was a regional finalist of the Rhodes scholarship and a White House Fellowship National Finalist, and earned an Honorary Doctorate in Civil Law from Rhode Island College and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Center on Women in Policing. On immigration, McSally said, “We must strictly enforce our immigration laws. Once our border is secure, we have to develop a system that ends the arbitrary quota system, and streamlines the process for law-abiding immigrants who want to come here and fulfill their dreams. We have to know who is entering our country, and why. We need to keep out anyone who would harm us, while offering those who would work for it a chance to succeed.” Grace Meng Democrat U.S. House of Representatives, New York A Taiwanese-American public interest lawyer and Assemblywoman, Meng is committed to protecting unions, creating access for women to healthcare, and using government as a “force of good.” A lawyer and member of the New York State Legislature, she grew up in Queens, where she still lives with her husband and two sons. Meng claims authorship of the law that eliminates the word "Oriental" in government documents as well as legislation on reverse mortgages and requirements for insurance to pay for special infant formula.  he states in her bio that “as a woman, I am running to improve the woefully inadequate statistic of women comprising only 17% of Congress, yet over half America’s population.”   Gloria Negrete McLeod Democrat U.S. House of Representatives, California Negrete McCleod is a  current member of the California State Senate and former member of the California State Assembly. Originally from Los Angeles, the Hispanic-American McLeod currently lives in Chino. When she learned that California proposed a new congressional district, McLeod declared that she would run for congress, stating, “I’m in, I’m in, I’m in, I’m in....There’s nobody there. All the people that were there kinda went woop,” she said, waving her hands as she stood in the back of the state Senate chambers. “I saw the map. That’s mine.”     Shelli Yoder  Democrat House of Representatives, Indiana There aren't too many retired beauty queens with Masters in Divinity. But Yoder is a former Miss Indiana, who has a background in counseling. After recovering from anorexia, she served as the assistant director of GirlForce, an advocacy group that raises awareness about eating disorders, and as executive director of the Eating Disorders Coalition of Tennessee. Yoder faced five other opponents in the primary and won with 47% of the vote. In a recent profile, Yoder relates how she and her husband were fed up with Washington, “We both kept saying ‘I want a woman to run.’ My husband finally said, ‘Shelli, you should run.’” Yoder is also environmentally minded:"Families in the 9th District need sustainable and good-paying jobs in the sectors that will define the 21st Century economy: biotechnology innovation, renewable and green-energy manufacturing and development, and infrastructure improvement."   Find a full list of the record 163 candidates check The 2012 Project Women's Election Tracker.   image of Tulsi gabbard:  Tulsi Gabbard CC-BY-SA-3.0 image of Delbene: Robert Kangas CC-BY-SA-2.0 image of Meng:  Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York  CC-BY-2.0 image of Grisham: Steve Terrell CC-BY-2.0 all other images in the public domain Featured image credit ttarasiuk via the Creative Commons License.

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