Will These Women Clean House? GOP Freshman Lawmakers Back Congressional Reform

Article excerpt

If 1992 was the "Year of the Woman" in American politics, then 1994 was the "Year of the Conservative Woman." Nine women incumbents--all liberal Democrats--lost their House seats in the November elections. Seven conservative Republican women were elected to the House freshman class, while moderate Republican Olympia Snowe moved from the House to the Senate.

The new Republican women in the House do not claim sisterhood with the so-called "women's agenda." Instead, they define the GOP's Contract with America as a "women's issue," and their campaigns centered on tax cuts, congressional reform, and reducing or eliminating scores of government programs and entire agencies. Sue Myrick, a two-term mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, was named to the House Budget Committee because of her experience controlling municipal spending. She's also a co-chairman of the GOP "freshmen task force" to eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Since the mid-1960s, she says, HUD and other federal agencies have spent $5 trillion on the War on Poverty, and poverty won.

Barbara Cubin of Wyoming and Helen Chenoweth of Idaho intend to protect women and men alike by calling for an overhaul of federal regulation. They've been active in the effort to defend property owners from intrusive federal regulators, and to give states more flexibility in controlling natural-resources development on public lands within their borders. Both Chenoweth and Cubin are on the GOP task force to reform the Endangered Species Act to protect animals and plants without jeopardizing jobs or property rights. Sue Kelly, of New York's Westchester County, is the only pro-choice woman in the crowd, and styles herself an economic conservative. She'll be pushing tax and regulatory relief for small businesses.

These women participate in the first Republican-led Congress in 40 years, which offers them unprecedented opportunities for influence. Policy Review looks at three of the new lawmakers, who should be on anyone's list of members to watch in 1995 and beyond:

ANDREA SEASTRAND (CA-22)

For many, the death of a spouse means a time for quitting--a time when long-held hopes are wrapped up and put into storage. Not for Andrea Seastrand.

When her husband Eric, a California assemblyman, died in their 26th year of marriage, Seastrand ran for his seat and won. They were a team, "movement conservatives" devoted to making government work, by fighting bureaucracy and red tape. But it was always Eric who worked in the limelight of elected office. She was supportive, in the background, stuffing envelopes and going door to door. "I was the one writing the letters and getting others to write," she says. "I never saw myself as the one to receive the letters."

She would be receiving a lot of them. Elected in 1990, Andrea served four years in the General Assembly. Then, last year, she saw an opportunity to run for the Santa Barbara-area congressional seat vacated by Michael Huffington in his bid for the U.S. Senate. She ran on the Contract with America and immigration reform, calling for speeding up the deportation of illegal aliens convicted of and imprisoned for serious crimes. She supported Proposition 187--the state ballot initiative to end state services to illegal immigrants--because she thinks legal aliens are most likely to play by the rules and build lives for themselves and their families. "I'm a believer in immigration--legal immigration," she says. "I want to help people who are here legally to work through the red tape to become citizens more quickly."

Seastrand's political education began at the all-girls Catholic high school she attended in Chicago. During a visit to the school, a bishop who had been exiled from Lithuania explained what communism meant in his country, and described the deadening effect of a totalitarian government on its citizens. The experience made the 15-year-old staunchly anti-Communist. …