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June 21, 2002
The Official Word
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Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson
D-Texas; Chairwoman, Congressional Black Caucus

When I reflect on the role of women in politics, I am pleased to look back at the significant advances in participation that have been made by women legislators since I first ran for office 30 years ago.

In 1972, community leaders in Dallas approached me and asked me to consider running for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives. I knew that running for office would not be easy, especially since no African-American woman had ever won public office in Dallas. However, I worked hard to win the faith of my community, and they sent me to represent them before the state legislature in Austin. That’s when I realized that the fight was just beginning.

Like many women with a career, I had to juggle childcare and family life along with my new professional responsibilities, all while fighting to break into the male-dominated world of Texas politics. Since that first election, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to break new ground for women legislators, including becoming the first woman in Texas history to lead a major Texas House committee. I have also been elected to the Texas State Senate, and, in 1992, I was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where I currently chair the Congressional Black Caucus. Today, I am pleased to serve alongside many female colleagues who are making leadership history of their own. There are more than 60 female members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-California), who, as Minority Whip, is the highest-ranking female in the history of our chamber.

Thirteen members of the U.S. Senate are women, and women comprise 10 percent of our nation’s governors, hold seats on the Supreme Court and in the Cabinet, and are elected in unprecedented numbers on the state and local levels. With the 2002 elections coming up, there will be even greater opportunities for women legislators to pick up seats across this country, but we need to do more. Women, and particularly African-American women, bring a unique perspective to public policymaking. We often run for and serve in public office for very different reasons than our male colleagues, as reflected in many of the issues we champion. Across the ideological spectrum, we place a greater emphasis on the issues that impact our children and families: education and health care, equal pay, retirement security and protecting Social Security. And we keep these issues at the forefront of the national debate.

With the leadership of our nation’s government split on razor-thin margins, and the fate of critical policy issues under discussion every day, there has never been a more important time for women to speak up and participate in the political process. We must continue to have a strong voice in deciding the future of our nation. From registering to vote to supporting women candidates to encouraging new women leaders to run for public office, we must fight to elect more women leaders.

May our numbers increase.

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