WASHINGTON – The first sisters in Congress, Loretta and Linda Sanchez of California, say they had to fend off propositions and patronizing from men to get there and to stay.
Their joint memoir, "Dream in Color: How the Sanchez Sisters Are Making History in Congress," being published Sept. 2, traces their paths to Washington, where they found themselves a minority of a minority — Latina women in an institution still dominated by white men.
"Without a doubt, there are certain members of Congress who still believe women don't belong there, and there are those who see women just as sexual objects," writes Linda. Without naming names, she recounts being propositioned by older male lawmakers who "won't take no for an answer."
Linda, 39, an attorney and former labor organizer, is in her third term. She chairs a House Judiciary subcommittee that recently ruled that former presidential aide Karl Rove broke the law by defying a congressional subpoena. She complains that during hearings, male witnesses were often deferential to male committee members, but patronizing to her.
Linda also aims bile at fellow, unnamed women in Congress, writing that a few of them "try to use their femininity or their good looks to finagle things out of people, and the other members really resent that."
Loretta, 48, a former financial adviser, is in her sixth term representing an Orange County district that she won in a narrow upset over conservative Republican Bob Dornan. She's a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and has made headlines for her advocacy for human rights in Vietnam.
In their book — being published by Grand Central Publishing and written with co-author Richard Buskin — they alternate telling their stories. They both revisit last year's controversy in which they quit the Congressional Hispanic Caucus after Loretta accused the caucus chairman, Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., of calling her a "whore."
Baca has repeatedly denied saying that.
Linda broadens her complaints beyond Baca to include "a whole cabal of males" in the caucus.
"Male superiority is very deeply ingrained in some Latino men of a certain generation," Linda wrote. "... And Baca belongs to that camp, although he would certainly deny that."
"Any claims of male superiority within the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are simply not true," Baca wrote in a statement to The Associated Press. "We place value on the commitment and hard work necessary to advance the goals of the Latino community, not one's gender."
Loretta recalls the 2000 Democratic convention in Los Angeles where she tried to hold a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion before getting shot down by Democratic party leaders who feared the venue would reflect poorly on candidate Al Gore.
She complains about "really dumb" tactics used by "Gore's people" who "tried to bully me" through the press. They were just mad because she was trying to raise money for Latino voter registration, not for Gore, she wrote.
An e-mail message seeking a response from Gore sent to his Alliance for Climate Protection was not immediately returned.
Both women recall their upbringing in a family with seven children and reflect with admiration on the values their hardworking immigrant parents instilled in them.
The two are different personalities, with such disparate habits that they refuse to room together in Washington. Both now single, Loretta arises early to go to the gym while Linda likes to stay out late.
But both emerge from their book as determined, strong-willed personalities refusing to take no for an answer and more than able to stand up for themselves against a power structure that discouraged them along the way.
Loretta finds occasion in the book to mention that her IQ is over 160, and although it's not mentioned in the book, she has toyed with running for governor of California in 2010.