Office management and sleep habits
Rep. Tammy Baldwin talks about the transition from the Wisconsin State Assembly to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Preparing for an H1N1 preparedness hearing
Rep. Baldwin discusses how committee hearings typically work, and she explains what she’s looking to get out of this hearing on H1N1 preparedness, in which witnesses from government health agencies and vaccine manufacturers will be present.
H1N1 preparedness hearing
Members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health question government witnesses about the state of swine flu.
Meeting with lobbyists
Representatives from United Migrant Opportunity Services, an organization that provides social services to low income people, meet with Rep. Tammy Baldwin in her office.
WASHINGTON — She may still use an AOL account her cousin set up 15 years ago, but that has not stopped Tammy Baldwin from winning a sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Baldwin’s first experience in public service was on student council in middle school and she has only moved up from there. A year after college, Baldwin enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Law School. A Dane County Board opening inspired her to run for and ultimately win a supervisor seat despite continuing law school.
“People thought I was crazy, but it ended up working out very well,” Baldwin said.
In 1992, Baldwin was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly. During her third term, Rep. Scott Klug, R-Wis., announced he would not seek re-election, so Baldwin pursued the seat. She won the 1998 race and made history by becoming Wisconsin’s first congresswoman and the first non-incumbent openly gay person elected to Congress.
Baldwin’s advice for those interested in running for office: community involvement.
“I couldn’t have imagined people stepping forward to volunteer on my campaign if I hadn’t volunteered,” she said. “It’s an essential element.”
While the Democratic representative from Wisconsin was one of three who tied for the No. 1 spot in her high school class, she said prospective public servants should simply try to be well-rounded.
“We are best served if our legislatures reflect the diversity of America. … I think people should pursue their interests,” she said.
Inside the halls of Congress
A week after her first election, Baldwin and the rest of the representatives-elect were in Washington for freshman orientation. There, they learned such essentials as ethics, parliamentary procedure and how to set up an office and access the budget.
Much of the Baldwin office’s day-to-day operations are managed by her Chief of Staff Bill Murat. The representative spends her days running between her office, committee rooms and the House chambers for votes and debates.
When not meeting with constituents or lobbyists, there’s a good chance Baldwin is at committee. She sits on the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which recently heard from government officials and experts on H1N1 preparedness. After more than an hour of repetitive opening statements by those sitting on the committee, a vote was called before Baldwin got to question the witnesses.
Every time there’s a vote, buzzers sound, alerting representatives it is time to take the underground subway to the Capitol.
Vote timing can be quite strategic, especially for contentious issues.
“There’s days where you’re going back and forth 20 times,” Baldwin said.
Even with ubiquitous BlackBerrys, her staff sometimes struggles to stay in the loop.
“I just ran into her. She was all scattered, she didn’t know where she was,” one of her staff members said, who was trying to keep her on schedule after she “disappeared” from committee.
“She said she was going to get some soup and come up,” press secretary Jerilyn Goodman said.
Shortly after, Baldwin arrived, soup in hand, and proceeded to meet with lobbyists in her office, 20 minutes late.
To compromise or not to compromise
“I tried to be clear about the things that I wouldn’t compromise on,” Baldwin said, “but on the vast majority of issues, I’m guided by my constituency.”
In 1999, Baldwin opposed the war in Kosovo, voting against the wishes of President Bill Clinton and most of her party.
“Votes of war and peace are very much votes of conscience,” she said.
She also asserts she will not compromise on matters of civil rights. Baldwin has been a leader on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.
Three weeks ago, a House committee debated a bill she authored that would extend benefits to domestic partners of federal employees.
Baldwin sat in the public sitting area to listen as many Democratic representatives spoke in favor of the bill and thanked her for authoring it. Many Republican representatives responded by introducing a handful of amendments designed to water down the bill.
At one point, the committee discussed the possibility of gay Mexicans illegally crossing the border to marry federal employees just to get health insurance.
Despite such antics, the committee passed the bill after about five hours.
The bill is personally significant for Baldwin because, in Wisconsin, she can neither legally marry nor provide her longtime partner Lauren Azar with her employment benefits.
“I can’t cover Lauren on my health insurance,” she said.
President Barack Obama has publicly supported the bill and Baldwin expects it to come to a floor vote this month.
The little things in life
When asked her assessment of her first decade in Congress, Baldwin said she is proud of her accomplishments but added, “I won’t be satisfied till my constituents are back to work. … There’s a lot more to do.”
She is particularly proud of the individual advocacy she does on behalf of constituents having trouble with federal agencies.
“When we go to bat and we’re successful. … That is so rewarding,” Baldwin said.
Given the fighting for her constituents and trying to solve all the nation’s problems, it is understandable Baldwin still has not found time to switch to Gmail.
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