Congressional Complexion Not Very Complex

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White and male: that’s still the makeup of the majority of the 108th Congress despite the increasingly diverse population it governs.

When lawmakers flock back to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to begin a new legislative session after an explosive fall election, a record 22 Hispanics will be sworn into the House of Representatives and there will be 37 blacks, one more than last year.

But that’s not much to break up the sea of white.

There are no blacks or Hispanics in the 100-member Senate, nor are there any black Republicans in the House now that Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts has retired.

Women, on the other hand, are still gaining ground.

An unprecedented 14 women will be in the Senate in 2003, one more "x" chromosome than last year.

The addition came after Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski last month appointed his daughter, Lisa, to the remainder of his Senate term. Murkowski stepped down from his Senate post to make a run for governor, which he won. As governor, he gets to appoint a replacement if a senator leaves his or her position.

The Senate women will be joined by 60 females in the House, the same as in 2002, making a total of 74 women in both chambers.

About 51 percent of the U.S. population is female, compared with nearly 14 percent of the House and 14 percent of the Senate.

Although women are slowly but surely making gains in national, state and local races, Republican Ginny Brown-Waite, who beat U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Fla., said some women may be turned off to politics by the nasty tone that can characterize campaigns. She said women need to hang tough when entering the political fray.

"When I meet smart, articulate women, I encourage them to run, but I tell them it's not for the faint of heart," she said. "You have to have a very thick skin and a sense of humor and a burning flame to want to serve."

On the race issue, there are actually fewer blacks in the House in 2003 than in previous years. This year’s 37 compares with a record 39 blacks there from 1993 through 1996. Still, only 8.5 percent of the House is black and only 5 percent is Hispanic. Hispanics and blacks each make up 12 percent of the U.S. population.

This year’s freshman class also includes several familiar Washington family names.

In addition to Murkowski, other new senators with politically famous fathers are Mark Pryor, D-Ark., 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 Bush.

Then there’s Liddy Dole. The North Carolina Republican is the only new senator who has never been elected to office before, but she’s no stranger to politics or to government.

Dole, the wife of former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole — who served as Senate majority leader and also tried his hand at a run for the presidency in 1996 — served as secretary of transportation under President Reagan and secretary of labor under George H.W. Bush. Bob Dole was beat in his presidential run by former President Bill Clinton, whose wife, Hillary, is now the junior senator from New York.

In the House, 35-year-old Democrat Kendrick Meek of Florida is taking over the seat of his mother, Rep. Carrie Meek, who held it for 10 years. Mother Meek, the granddaughter of a slave who became one of the first black Floridians elected to Congress since Reconstruction, decided to retire at the age of 76.

Florida brotherly love will be displayed in the House when Republican Mario Diaz-Balart joins his brother, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, in that chamber.

And one can’t forget about the historic sister act in town. Newly elected Democrat Linda Sanchez and incumbent Rep. Loretta Sanchez made history in November when they became the first sister duo to serve together in Congress. The two women represent neighboring Southern California districts.

Most of the new Hill faces have paved the way for their political careers by working in law, business or politics. But there are some other fields in which new politicos have made their names.

House newbies include retired Marine John Kline, R-Minn., Southampton College provost Timothy Bishop, D-N.Y., and two obstetricians, Drs. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., and Michael Burgess, R-Texas, who together have delivered more than 8,000 babies.

Then there are those who just couldn’t stay away from Washington.

Two members are returning to a job they gave up — Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who retired at the end of 2000 but made another run after Sen. Bob Torricelli dropped out of his re-election race, and Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., who served 12 years in the House before he left in an unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 1994.

Cooper says he is "older, wiser and balder" this time around and thankful for the chance to be back.

"F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives," he said. "It's a great privilege to get one."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.