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Cosmopolitan: 19 Women Who Will Make History if Elected to Congress This Year

August 16, 2016

Cosmopolitan: 19 Women Who Will Make History if Elected to Congress This Year

by Prachi Gupta

Hillary Clinton has become the first female presidential candidate of a major political party in American history, showing American women and girls that they, too, can one day run for political office and succeed. But she's not the only female politician whose election would be historic. In a Congress that boasts only 19 percent women, over a dozen women from both sides of the aisle could end up breaking barriers if elected in November. Based in part on input from FairVote.org's nonpartisan Representation2020 project, here are 19 women from across the country who would be historic firsts if elected into the House of Representatives or the Senate.

1. LISA BLUNT ROCHESTER (D): U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, DELAWARE

If elected, she will be the first woman and the first African American to represent Delaware in Congress.

Born in Wilmington, Delaware, Lisa Blunt Rochester has dedicated her career to public service in her home state, serving as Delaware deputy secretary of health and social services, Delaware secretary of labor (the first black woman to hold this position), and then later serving as Delaware personnel director and CEO of Wilmington Urban League. She briefly moved to China after her second child was ready to go to college, where she wrote a book "about women who reinvented themselves," she told DelawareOnline.com. She is running for an open seat in Delaware's at-large district vacated by Rep. John Carney (D), who is running for governor.

2. KATIE MCGINTY (D): U.S. SENATE, PENNSYLVANIA

If elected, she will be the first woman to represent Pennsylvania in the Senate.

Katie McGinty, the ninth of 10 children, was born in Northeastern Philadelphia to a police officer and restaurant hostess. She's the first in her family to go to college, graduating from St. Joseph's University with a degree in chemistry and then going to Columbia Law School. She's focused her career on clean energy and environmental protection in both the public and private sectors, with stints working for Sen. Al Gore and former President Bill Clinton, who tapped her as his top environmental aide and later as chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality (she was the first woman ever to hold this position). Early on in her career, she spent over a year in India as an energy research fellow, where she adopted two girls from Mother Teresa's orphanage with her husband, Karl. They later had one biological daughter and live in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

3. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D): U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, WASHINGTON

If elected, she will be the first Indian American woman in Congress.

Pramila Jayapal, who earned an endorsement from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, came to the U.S. from India at 16 on her own because her parents wanted her to have more opportunities. She attended Georgetown University and worked on Wall Street before becoming a labor organizer and national advocate for the civil rights of women and immigrants. She became a U.S. citizen in 2000, and in 2001, after 9/11, founded South Asian and Arab advocacy group Hate Free Zone (which was later changed to OneAmerica). As a Washington state senator, she helped pass a $15 minimum wage and paid sick days in Seattle. She is running for Congress in Washington state's 7th District.

4. ANGIE CRAIG (D): U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, MINNESOTA

If elected, she will be the first openly gay person to represent Minnesota in Congress.

Angie Craig is the daughter of a single mother, and she grew up in a trailer park with her two siblings. She graduated from the University of Memphis, worked as a journalist, and later became a business executive. In 2000, according to the Human Rights Campaign, her custody battle over her adopted son led to a ruling that helped make it possible for other same-sex couples to adopt. When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015, Craig rejoiced, saying, "When I came out in a small Arkansas town in 1989, I couldn't imagine that I would live to see this day. I've watched as countless families, all over the country, struggle for the same recognition that my wife Cheryl, our four children, and I were fortunate to be afforded by my adoptive home in Minnesota. While California, and then Minnesota, have recognized our marriage since 2008, we'll celebrate today with the kids knowing that no longer can anyone, anywhere in this country, tell us that we're not a family." She is running for Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District.

5. DENISE JUNEAU (D): U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, MONTANA

If elected, she will be the first Native American woman in Congress and the first openly gay person to represent Montana in Congress.

Denise Juneau can trace her family's Montana roots back more than 50 generations, long before Montana was a state. She was raised on Montana's Blackfeet Indian Reservation, is a descendant of the Blackfeet tribe, and is member of the Mandan Hidatsa tribe. Juneau has worked in education policy, boasting degrees from Montana State University, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the University of Montana School of Law, and in 2008, became the first Native American woman in the U.S. ever elected to an executive statewide office as Montana's Superintendent of Public Instruction. She is the first openly gay woman to run for federal office in Montana and is running for Montana's at-large congressional district. If elected, Juneau will be the first woman Montana has sent to the House since 1941.

6. SUZANNA SHKRELI (D): U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, MICHIGAN

If elected, she will be the first Albanian American woman in Congress.

Suzanna Shkreli, 29, works as an assistant prosecutor for Macomb County, Michigan, taking on child abuse cases. Shkreli joined the race in July as the Democratic Party challenger to incumbent U.S. Rep Mike Bishop (R) after Melissa Gilbert dropped out of the race. "I've been doing public service for the last five years," she told the Detroit Free Press. "I have no political experience, [but] when Melissa Gilbert dropped out, that's when I decided to step up and run." In a statement on her campaign website, Shkreli notes, "I'm a first generation American. My parents are working class Albanian immigrants who worked very hard to help my sister, my brothers and me get a good education and go to college. That's why I've dedicated my career to giving back, and helping make sure the next generation has the same opportunities I had." She is running for Michigan's 8th Congressional District.

7. KAMALA HARRIS (D): U.S. SENATE, CALIFORNIA

If elected, she will be the second black woman in Congress (after Carol Mosely Braun in 1992) and the first Indian American in the Senate.

Born to an Indian physician and a Jamaican Stanford professor, Kamala Harris is poised to become America's first black female senator in two decades and its first Indian American woman. Her parents divorced when Harris was a child and she grew up mostly with her mother, Shyamala, who took her two daughters to Baptist church and on trips to India. Harris attended the historically black college Howard University, got a law degree from Hastings College, and then worked at an assistant district attorney's office in Oakland. Devoted to criminal justice reform, Harris told the New York Times Magazine of racial bias among prosecutors. "They were talking about how these young people were dressed, what corner they were hanging out on and the music they were listening to. I remember saying: 'Hey, guys, you know what? Members of my family dress that way. I grew up with people who live on that corner.'" In 2010, she became California's first female, first black, and first Asian American attorney general.

8. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D): U.S. SENATE, CALIFORNIA

If elected, she could be the first Latina in the Senate.

Sanchez, one of seven children of Mexican immigrants, ventured into politics in the mid-'90s after working as a financial analyst for Booz Allen Hamilton. Though originally registered as a Republican, hearing anti-immigrant rhetoric from then-GOP presidential candidate Pat Buchanan changed her mind. In 1996, she ousted conservative Rep. Bob Dornan from his House seat by about 1,000 votes. Political consultant John Shallman, who managed her campaign, told the Los Angeles Times recently, "When she first ran, she was not expected to be the nominee, not even by the Democratic Party." He continued: "And when she was the nominee, they didn't believe she had a chance. Why? Because she was Latino and a woman." She served California's 46th Congressional District from 1997 to 2003, before serving the 47th District from 2003 until 2013. In the 2016 election, she will be up against Kamala Harris for a California Senate seat.

9. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO (D): U.S. SENATE, NEVADA

If elected, she will be the first woman to represent Nevada in the Senate and could be the first Latina in the Senate.

Catherine Cortez Masto hails from Las Vegas, Nevada, and pursued a career as an attorney after graduating with a degree in finance from the University of Nevada, Reno, and Gonzaga University School of Law. She has served as a federal criminal prosecutor at the United States Attorney's Office and as assistant county manager for Clark County. She later served as the state's attorney general for eight years. Upon accepting an award from the Women's Research Institute of Nevada in 2013, she said, "As we celebrate Women's History Month, we need to recognize that women have the capacity to be great leaders. They bring a different and much needed perspective to the table. Nevada could benefit from more women in leadership roles and so could our country."

10. LATHIKA MARY THOMAS (R): U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, FLORIDA

If elected, she could be the first Indian American woman in Congress.

Lathika Mary Thomas is the daughter of Indian doctors who immigrated to America in 1972. Originally from Charleston, South Carolina, the 37-year-old moved to Florida as a child. Thomas identifies as a "strong conservative Republican" and has worked in state government, under Gov. Rick Scott's administration, since he was elected in 2010. According to her website, she currently serves as general counsel at the Department of Elder Affairs. "With the strong support and help of our Indian community, I will be able to be victorious in my race for Congress. If I am elected, I will be the first Indian-American woman to serve in Congress. This would truly be a historic event," she told website Desi Life and Times last year. She is running for Florida's 2nd District.

11. DENISE GITSHAM (R): U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, CALIFORNIA

If elected, she will be the first Republican Chinese American woman in Congress.

With a Chinese mother from Taiwan and a Canadian father, Denise Gitsham says she's "ambiguously ethnic enough to pass for almost anything." This is how, she joked at CPAC last year, she ended up "as a Hispanic coalitions coordinator" for George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign. Non-politicos might recognize the attorney and small-business owner from her brief appearance on The Bachelor in 2008. She is running for California's 52nd District.

12. SUE GOOGE (R): U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, NORTH CAROLINA

If elected, she will be first Asian American woman to represent North Carolina in Congress.

Sue Googe was born in extreme poverty on a remote island without running water or electricity in communist China. Her parents were illiterate, but after demonstrating a talent for reading and writing, Googe was able to gain admission to a boarding school at age 11. At age 20, she moved to mainland China and worked as an accountant, and at 26, she moved to America and studied computer science. She became a U.S. citizen in 2005 and went on to found a real estate investment firm in Cary, North Carolina. She is running in North Carolina's 4th Congressional District, and according to the Representation 20/20 project, she would be the first woman to represent that district at the federal level.

13. MISTY SNOW (D): U.S. SENATE, UTAH

If elected, she could be the first openly transgender person in Congress and would be the youngest U.S. senator in American history.

Misty Snow, 30, comes from a low-income family and works as a cashier at a grocery store. But with the Democratic Party's support behind her, and a recent primary election win in Utah, she has already made history as being one of two openly transgender women to win a congressional primary. If elected, Snow just might make history in two ways: She would be the first transgender person elected to Congress and the youngest U.S. senator ever. "Even if you don't think I can win, I am a voice of the LGBT community," she recently told Refinery29. "I am a voice of the millennials. I'm also the voice of working people — I work at a grocery store — and I think we need more working people representation in government."

14. MISTY PLOWRIGHT (D): U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, COLORADO

If elected, she could be the first openly transgender person in Congress.

Misty Plowright is a self-described "computer geek," military veteran, and polyamorous transgender woman. She was raised by a single mother and relied on public assistance. "Frankly, I don't think there's a whole lot of people up on Capitol Hill who know what it's like to bust their ass and still not make ends meet," she told the Guardian. "I've stared at cat food and wondered if I was really that hungry. No one in Congress knows what that feels like." She lives with her wife Lisa and their partner Sebastian in Colorado Springs. Along with Snow, Plowright made history with her primary win in June. She is running in Colorado's 5th District.

15. SUSAN NARVAIZ (R): U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, TEXAS

If elected, she will be the first Latina woman to represent Texas in Congress.

Born in Ohio, Susan Narvaiz moved to San Antonio, Texas, as a child. In 1995, she settled in San Marcos, Texas, where she became the town's mayor and served three terms. In addition to her public service, she is the president and CEO of Core Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that advises on public policy, public relations, and organizational change. She also sits on the board or advisory committee for many organizations, like Girl Scouts of Central Texas, Freedom Legacy International, and the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas, according to the Wall Street Journal. Narvaiz is running to represent Texas's 35th Congressional District, a new district that was created based on the 2010 Census report, after two failed bids.

16. KELLI WARD (R): U.S. SENATE, ARIZONA

If elected, she could be the first woman to represent Arizona in the Senate.

Dr. Kelli Ward, a 47-year-old osteopath, previously served in the state senate. She is challenging U.S. Sen. John McCain, who has been an Arizona senator for three decades, in the Aug. 30 primary. Ward is a strong supporter of Donald Trump and said in a recent interview with Conservative Review that she espouses the same "populist conservative values" as the Republican presidential nominee.

17. THUY LOWE (R): U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, FLORIDA

If elected, she will be the first Asian-American woman to represent Florida in Congress.

Thuy Lowe's parents came to America as refugees, fleeing violence in Vietnam in the 1970s. The Orlando Sentinel reports that Lowe grew up in Orlando, graduated from the University of Central Florida, and started a company — reportedly with just $50 — that provided medical transportation services to disadvantaged citizens in her local community. She retired after 10 years. She is running in the 10th District in Florida. This will be her second congressional bid.

18. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D): U.S. SENATE, ILLINOIS

If elected, she will be the first Thai American in the Senate.

Tammy Duckworth has already made history, becoming the first female veteran and the first Asian American woman from Illinois elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014. As an Iraq War veteran whose legs were amputated after her helicopter was shot down in 2004, Duckworth has been leading the offensive against Donald Trump for joking about how easy it is to get a Purple Heart. After her recovery, she worked for the Department of Veteran Affairs and was appointed to assistant secretary by President Barack Obama in 2009.

19. ANN KIRKPATRICK (D): U.S. SENATE, ARIZONA

If elected, she could be the first woman from Arizona in the Senate.

Ann Kirkpatrick was born and raised on the White Mountain Apache Nation reservation in Eastern Arizona, where her father ran a general store and mother taught at a school. Moving away from the reservation in the second grade was a culture shock for her. "In Apache culture, property's not of big value, and you're supposed to share with your family," she told the Phoenix New Times. "My friends and I used to play a game to see if we could walk in the forest and not leave a footprint. Then, you go into Anglo culture, and it's all about property and ownership." She went on to become valedictorian of her class, and obtained a bachelor's degree and a law degree from the University of Arizona. Kirkpatrick was the first female deputy county attorney in Arizona's Coconino County and later served as a city attorney for Sedona before launching her own law firm. In 2004, after community leaders nudged her into a career in politics, she served in the Arizona State House for two terms. In 2008, she was elected to represent Arizona's First District in the U.S. House of Representatives, which she continues to serve.