Tammy Baldwin (D – WI) talks personal and national issues to students
Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin characterized her decision to go into politics as a “professor” moment—as a twenty-three-year-old in her first semester of law school, she asked one of her professors if she should run for the open seat on the Board of Supervisors for Dane County, Wisconsin. He said she would make a great lawyer, but if she really wanted to do this politics thing, he was behind her all the way. She won the seat, and after six years in the Wisconsin State Legislature and 13 years in the House of Representatives, she is currently running to be the first openly gay Senator in the United States of America.
Baldwin told this story to a room full of eager Georgetown students last night, in an event co-sponsored by the College Democrats and GU Pride. And while she shared her own story, she also talked about the nitty gritty of being a member of congress and the important responsibilities that representatives have to their constituents.
She also encouraged her audience to get involved—regardless of the opinions others may have. Like many forward-thinking politicians, Baldwin was, according to her, told she was “too young, too progressive, too this,” and that she probably shouldn’t “bother”.
“Can a woman win? Can a lesbian win? Can a liberal win?” she said, recounting the challenges of her early political career in the traditionally red Wisconsin.
After telling the story of her rise into politics, Baldwin shifted to more current matters, and discussed the last congressional session. “I know how much the work of that congress was maligned in the midterm elections,” she said.
But it was when she got to discussing health care that Baldwin’s real passion shone through.
“The health care bill is probably the thing I feel most passionately about,” she said, adding that issues of healthcare and access to it were some of the main reasons for her initial decision to get involved in politics. Citing the recent bill, she was optimistic and proud.
“The fact that that this was accomplished is historic,” she said.
But despite her praises, Baldwin did tell her Georgetown audience that she is disheartened by the current state of affairs in Washington, saying that members of congress are playing “political games,” and not focusing enough on their job to satisfy the needs of the people.
This issue has become particularly tangible in her own state. After witnessing, addressing, and participating in the protests regarding Wisconsin’s governor’s budget plan, Baldwin noted that “the disconnect [between constituent needs and government ideals] has infuriated me and my state has inspired me.”
And it was this inspiration that ultimately drove her to declare her official campaign for the Senate two weeks ago.
Many members of the audience had questions particularly regarding this failure of the government to prioritize our citizen’s needs over political maneuvering. One student brought up the new voter ID laws in Wisconsin, to which Baldwin expressed her outrage at the laws, which will disenfranchise as many as 160,000 university students, elderly and particularly African American citizens.
Another student asked about how to incorporate a single-payer option into national healthcare policy. Baldwin explained that she will “fight tooth and nail” to defend Medicare, which is under recent attack by Paul Ryan, and highlighted the importance of debating the benefits of a public option. She also expressed, after a later question, her hope that pieces of Obama’s jobs bill and millionaire tax will be passed individually, since there is virtually no hope of the plans going through in entirety at this time.
Students also asked about other current issues, like the state of print media and the problem of special interests among representatives. But perhaps Baldwin’s biggest moment came when a student asked about how she responds to colleagues who are hostile to issues that she is passionate about.
“I find it personally offensive when people refer to LGBTQ people as less than,” she said. But she admitted that she needs to deal with these people on a daily basis, and cannot call her boss to tell him that her colleagues need therapy—she has to adapt. She identifies private conversations as very important in this regard, and values talking to fellow representatives when CSPAN is not rolling.
In the end, Baldwin did not try to mask the difficult, chaotic state of American politics, but did leave her audience with some optimistic encouragement.
“There’s this moment in my state and in this country where we have got to find a way to make our country functional again,” she said. “You don’t seek office if you don’t believe that democracy can work.”
Photo from Progressive.org