Who's In, Who's Out In The New Congress

Campaign seasons past also started out as "The Year of the Woman," only to fizzle out by Election Day. Though 1992 brought its share of disappointments, the Anita Hill class fulfilled a good measure of its early promise with the election of four new women to the U.S. Senate and a spate of freshwomen in the House.

Carol Moseley Braun, 45, a former Cook County, Ill., apparatchik, and Pennsylvanian Lynn Yeakel, 51, a longtime advocate of women's causes, burst into the race to protest the Senate Judiciary Committee's conduct during the Clarence Thomas hearings. Braun's last weeks were a roller coaster: her stunning primary upset nearly turned to defeat with accusations of possible Medicaid fraud involving her mother. But Braun managed a 10-point victory over Republican Rich Williamson, in the process becoming the first black woman in the Senate. Working in her favor: Clinton coattails and crossover racial appeal. Not so for Yeakel. In one of her campaign ads depicting the Hill-Thomas proceedings, she had asked: "Did this make you as angry as it made me?" Apparently not: she lost narrowly to Arlen Specter, who convinced enough voters that his grilling of Hill was an anomaly in an otherwise pro-woman career.

California became the first state ever to send two Democratic women to the Senate: former San Francisco mayor Diane Feinstein and Rep. Barbara Boxer. Despite a tough eleventh-hour TV campaign, Sen. John Seymour couldn't reverse Feinstein's commanding lead. Ultraconservative TV commentator Bruce Herschensohn nibbled at Boxer's edge in the last weeks, by attacking her history of bouncing checks and by criticizing congressional perks. But in the end, his right-to-life stance put him out of step with the state. Farther up the coast, in Washington, Patty Murray, the self-styled "Mom in tennis shoes," exploited both pro-woman and anti-incumbent sentiment to defeat Republican Rep. Rod Chandler for the Senate; she triumphantly waved a pair of sneakers on election night.

For a number of women, it was the year that wasn't. In addition to Braun, four Midwestern women made Senate bids. Their failure says less about their candidacies than their competitors'-veterans like Bob Dole of Kansas and Charles Grassley of Iowa, whom Martha Washington couldn't defeat. Three women made statehouse bids-none successfully. Even the addition of four senators will bring the grand total up to six.

When checks were bouncing and House restaurant tabs were mounting, insider status seemed a guarantee of defeat. In Illinois, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski's opponent went as far as listing himself on the ballot as Elias "Non-Incumbent" Zenkich. The ploy didn't work for him, and, indeed, most incumbents who survived primary challenges saved their seats this week. House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich won a bitter contest in Georgia, bailed out mainly by a TV commercial in which his daughter defended him against charges of welshing on child support. Wisconsin Rep. Les Aspin, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and the ultimate insider, held on despite $1,070 of voided parking tickets.

A few veterans were unlucky enough to buck the trend. Elvis lives in Wisconsin, where state Sen. Russell Feingold, 39, amused voters with a supposed endorsement from the King. Rhodes scholar Feingold defeated two-term Sen. Robert W. Kasten, partly by reminding constituents that the incumbent promised not to serve more than 12 years. North Carolina Sen. Terry Sanford, 75, had a bad month, first undergoing heart surgery, then losing to GOP businessman Lauch Faircloth.

The voters have spoken and the verdict is in-but even in 1992, the year of the House-bank scandal, grass-roots reaction to alleged ethical lapses by Senate and House incumbents was a highly uncertain thing. In the Senate, two members of the "Keating Five," Sen. John Glenn of Ohio and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, were re-elected despite their involvement in the savings and loan debacle. In the House, Rep. Nick Mavroules of Massachusetts was defeated after his indictment on 17 counts of extortion, tax evasion and abuse of office-while Rep. Joe McDade of Pennsylvania, who was indicted in May for allegedly extorting more than $100,000 in bribes, favors and illegal gratuities, was easily re-elected to a 16th term. The House-bank scandal, similarly, cut a wildly uneven swath through the long list of incumbents who had written uncovered checks. Rep. Gerry Sikorski of Minnesota was beaten after writing 697 rubber checks-while Rep. Ron Coleman of Texas won re-election after writing 673 cheeks. Reps. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania (430 cheeks) and Henry Waxman of California (434 checks) won, while Reps. Mary Rose Oakar of Ohio (213 checks) and Tom Downey of New York (151 checks) lost. And then there was Rep. Peter Kostmayer of Pennsylvania, who lost after writing only 50 checks. Go figure.

For more than a year, across the United States came the sound of mean. Campaigns up and down the ladder were as ugly as a Shar-Pei dog. But this time around, mudslinging didn't always work. Republican Michael DeWine's ads tried to trivialize incumbent Sen. John Glenn's astronaut days with a space-suited parody of the Energizer bunny. The same ads chide Glenn for not repaying his 1984 presidential-campaign debt: "He just keeps owing and owing and owing. . ." Glenn won. In Massachusetts, an opponent of Gerry Studds called the openly gay congressman a child molester. Studds won, too. In South Carolina, Republican Tommy Hartnett tried to scare voters by dredging up a bill that incumbent Sen. Ernest Hollings sponsored in 1983; Hartnett said the bill would require that gays be chosen for jobs instead of qualified heterosexuals to fill quotas. In fact, a civil-rights bill Hollings cosponsored back in 1983 offered some protection according to sexual preference-but explicitly prohibited quotas. Hartnett later apologized to anyone who had been offended, though he continued to run the ad. Hollings kept his job.

Dirty did work in some cases, though. Nobody played rougher than U.S. Senate candidates Alfonse D'Amato and Robert Abrams. They shouted at each other on morning radio and drove their voters batty with an increasingly shrill ad battle. "Bob Abrams never met a tax he didn't like... except his own," charged one D'Amato ad that pointed up an Abrams property-tax delinquency. After Democrat Abrams, rattled by hecklers, called D'Amato a fascist, D'Amato commercials twisted the insult into an ethnic slur-complete with archival footage of Mussolini. Abrams eventually apologized for the remark. D'Amato squeaked by to win a third term. Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood beat opponent Les AuCoin with a strong pro-business stand in the spotted-owl controversy and high-spending, elbows-out attacks on such issues as Congressman AuCoin's 83 overdrafts at the House bank; in a debate, Congressman AuCoin asked, "Bob, do you have no shame about peddling the garbage you put on TV?" Shame, it seems, is an increasingly rare commodity on the political scene.

Everybody attempted to play the outsider this year-including George Bush, who unsuccessfully cast himself as a lone Republican wolf battling the Capitol Hill gang. Pretenders aside, a handful of genuine outsiders won groundbreaking victories on Tuesday. In Colorado's Senate race, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the only Native American in Congress, narrowly defeated Republican businessman Terry Considine. A tough-talking, ponytailed Cheyenne chief who campaigned in full Indian regalia, Campbell survived strident attacks on his pro-choice views and lackluster attendance record. But his maverick status paled next to that of Florida's Alcee Hastings, a federal judge impeached by the House and removed by the Senate in 1989 for having lied about accepting a bribe. In his campaign for Congress, Hastings posed as a victim persecuted by an unjust system, drew wide support among blacks in Broward and Palm Beach counties-and became the first candidate elected to the body that had impeached him. And Lynn Woolsey won Barbara Boxer's vacated California congressional seat by stressing her common touch: a divorced mother of three, Woolsey becomes the first House member to have spent time on welfare.

The 1990 census-as well as the nation's appetite for change-proved a boon to minority candidates for the House of Representatives this year. Responding to significant population shifts, Congress and the federal courts carved out heavily black and Hispanic districts in New York, Illinois and much of the South. Among the most prominent beneficiaries was Nydia M. Velazquez, a former New York City Council member who defeated five other candidates, including Democratic Rep. Stephen J. Solarz, in September's Democratic primary in a newly created Hispanic-majority district. Despite revelations this fall that she had attempted suicide in 1991, Velazquez beat her Republican opponent on Tuesday with nearly 80 percent of the vote. In Georgia, state Rep. Cynthia McKinney benefited from the creation of a heavily African-American district that winds from Atlanta through Augusta to Savannah.

All told, five Southern states (Alabama, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina) sent their first black representatives to Washington since the 19th century, and African-Americans appeared headed for victory in 38 districts, up from the current 25. In Florida, minority winners busted up the near-exclusive white-male congressional fraternity; its only exception until now had been right-wing Little Havana Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. All four new seats in the Miami area went to Hispanics and blacks. Inner-city Miami Democrat Carrie Meek, a 66-year-old schoolteacher and sharecropper's daughter, faced only a nominal challenge from a write-in Socialist Worker. Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart, another Miami Cuban, had no challenger at all.

And in Texas, state Sen. Eddie Bernice Johnson won in her new black-majority district in the Dallas area. Johnson had helped create that district as chair of the Texas Legislature's reapportionment committee-a fact that wasn't lost on critics in the media. But voters didn't seem to care; months before the election, many were greeting her as "Congresswoman," and they elected her over two opponents with around 75 percent of the vote.












PHOTO: Hastings (NC)


Over on the other side of the ballot from the candidates, voters got to decide more than 200 measures running the gamut from serious to silly. Fourteen states had initiatives to limit the number of terms politicians can serve-and all of them passed. The fights over lawmaker-bashing laws are just beginning, however. Those aimed at federal officials might be held unconstitutional, and it remains to be seen how voters will feel when the clout-and pork-that seniority had given them fades away. Oregon rejected a strident and hotly contested anti-gay measure that declared homosexuality "perverse." Critics attacked the proposal as fueling harassment and violent attacks on gays, chiefly by local skinheads. But Colorado passed a measure that effectively nullifies anti-gay-bias laws already on the books. Elsewhere, the family-values agenda took a beating: Maryland passed a liberal abortion proposal, and Arizona defeated a stern one.

In Iowa, a state equal-rights amendment was defeated; evangelist Pat Robertson had charged it would lead women to "leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians." Several votes dealt with death: Washington, D.C., rejected a tough death-penalty law, while New Jersey extended its capital punishment to include certain crimes that cause unintended death. Iowa voters tidied up by repealing a constitutional provision that disqualified "parties to a duel" from holding office. Another victory for term-limit fever: dueling, after all, can impose the ultimate term limit.

Editor's pick

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts