She's Set to Be Longest-Serving Woman in Congress

Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur was first elected in 1982
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 2, 2023 9:35 AM CST
She's Set to Be Longest-Serving Woman in Congress
US Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, greets AP correspondent John Seewer before an interview, Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, in Toledo, Ohio. When the new Congress convenes Tuesday, Kaptur will become the longest-serving woman in its history, having been first elected in 1982.   (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

When the new Congress convenes on Tuesday, Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur will become the longest-serving woman in its history. Yet after 40 years, she sometimes feels like an outsider, reports the AP. Not because she's a woman or now in the minority party in the House. It's that she’s from Middle America, representing a district populated by working-class folks—a place and people many colleagues have forgotten, Kaptur said in an interview. "This is a burden I've carried my entire career. It's a problem in both parties because the leadership tends to come from the coasts, and we here in the big middle of the country are not well understood," she said. First elected to Congress in 1982, Kaptur will set the mark for the longest tenure by a woman in the House or Senate, surpassing former Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who retired at the end of 2017.

Kaptur's blue-collar roots come naturally. Her mother was a union organizer at a spark plug factory in Toledo, and her father ran a corner grocery. Kaptur, 76, lives alone in the modest single-story home where she grew up. She has stood up against a string of presidents from both parties over trade deals that she blames for devastating her state's manufacturing economy. Her opposition to NAFTA was one reason Ross Perot offered her a spot at being his vice presidential running mate in 1996. She turned him down, saying she wanted to stay in Congress.

Kaptur said the impact from NAFTA and how it wiped out many farmers in Mexico can be seen today in the overwhelming surge of migrants at the southern US border. "When you're hungry and you have nothing left, you're desperate," she said. "It's as though ... we don't understand the causality of why this is happening." Kaptur is perhaps best known for introducing legislation to build the World War II Memorial on the National Mall. Kaptur sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee but never ascended to leadership positions, though she challenged Nancy Pelosi in 2002 for House Democratic leader.

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When Kaptur arrived in Washington, she was one of 23 women in Congress. There will be a record 149 women in the new Congress, but that still represents less than 30% of all seats. Kaptur said she's proud of the women she has served alongside and of how Congress is much more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender. But she added that she didn't enter politics because she's a woman. "I always say I ran as a person from the working class," she said. "You can see that America is becoming more and more representative, but in terms of where people come from, their own life experience, we need to become much more representative of working men and women in the Congress." (Read more Marcy Kaptur stories.)

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