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Associated Press Newswires

New Congress Has Record Number Of Hispanics In The House, Women In The Senate

By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer

January 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Associated Press Newswires. All rights reserved. 

WASHINGTON - While some of the faces in the 108th Congress are new, many of their names are familiar.

Among the House and Senate members taking the oath of office Tuesday are the first sisters to serve together in Congress, two men whose brothers already serve in the House, the wife of a former Senate majority leader, the son of a former White House chief of staff and three children of former congressional members.

Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, a former Florida legislator elected in a largely Cuban-American district, acknowledges that a well-known family name helps at the ballot box. His older brother, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, represents a neighboring Miami district; his father, uncle and grandfather served in the Cuban House of Representatives.

"Name recognition gets you so far, but then you have to do your part," the younger Diaz-Balart said. "Did it help me? Absolutely. But if I had been a do-nothing legislator for 14 years, I wouldn't have been elected."

He is one of a record 22 Hispanics who will be sworn into the House, a gain of three from last year. Sixty women will serve in the House – the same as last year – and an unprecedented 14 women will be in the Senate.

Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski's appointment last month of his daughter, Lisa, to the remainder of his Senate term in Washington gives that chamber one more female member than it had last year.

Other new senators with politically famous fathers are Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat who is the son of former Sen. David Pryor, and John E. Sununu, whose father, John H. Sununu, served as New Hampshire governor and chief of staff to the first President George Bush.

The freshman class also includes North Carolina Republican Elizabeth Dole, who served as secretary of transportation under President Ronald Reagan and secretary of labor under the first President George Bush and is the wife of one-time Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. She joins Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, whose husband, Bill Clinton, defeated Bob Dole in the 2000 presidential election.

In the House, Democrat Kendrick Meek of Florida is taking over the seat that was held by his mother, Rep. Carrie Meek. And newly elected Democrat Linda Sanchez and Rep. Loretta Sanchez represent neighboring Southern California districts and become the first sisters serving together in Congress.

Linda Sanchez said she is proud to be part of the growing Hispanic and female contingent in Congress – but she doesn't think it's growing fast enough.

"When you have a homogenous Congress that doesn't reflect our diverse perspectives, I think Congress is the poorer for it," she said.

There are no blacks or Hispanics in the 100-member Senate. The House will have 37 blacks, one more than last year but fewer than the record 39 who served from 1993-1995. There are no black Republicans in Congress since Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts retired last year.

Only 8.5 percent of the House is black and only 5 percent is Hispanic, even though Hispanics and blacks each make up 12 percent of the U.S. population. About 51 percent of the U.S. population is female, compared with 14 percent of Congress.

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