For longtime D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, serving in the minority in the House of Representatives certainly has had its disadvantages during the current administration.
And with President Donald Trump in the White House and the GOP keeping a stronghold on the Senate after Tuesday’s midterm elections, life hasn’t been a picnic.
“We have strong division between Democrats and Republicans that’s been heating up for some time,” said Norton, the legendary Democrat who on Tuesday won a 15th term in Congress. “But not in my lifetime has anyone not only divided but tried his best to divide [like Trump has].”
Norton, who first took office 27 years ago, is the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. She serves on two committees — the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Before her congressional service, President Jimmy Carter appointed Norton to serve as the first woman to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She came to Congress in 1990 as a national figure who had been a civil rights and feminist leader, tenured professor of law and board member at three Fortune 500 companies.
The congresswoman has been named one of the 100 most important American women in one survey and one of the most powerful women in Washington in another.
“I think the country hasn’t been this divided since the Civil War and only then was there good reason because one side wanted slavery and the other did not,” Norton said. “There’s no good reason for that now. We simply need good leadership.”
For three decades, Norton has served mostly in the minority but has been driven to push through important legislation and to sit on committees and subcommittees in the House.
“I’m very proud of the bills that I’ve been able to get through,” she said, specifically pointing to her 1999 game-changing D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant Program, in which thousands of city high school graduates receive a $10,000 grant to attend state colleges that extend beyond the District.
The federal government provides $40 million annually to the program.
“We’ve doubled college attendance and it’s a one-of-a-kind thing that no one else has except for D.C.,” Norton said. “I was able to get it as people moved out of the District during the horrific years of the 1990s and we have students from all eight wards going to college in all 50 states.”
Norton said the midterm elections are critical to everyone around the country, but in many ways crucial for District residents.
“My primary message is for District residents to help me in my efforts to take back the House because the Democrats are in a very good position now to control the House,” she said. “I will be a committee or sub-committee chair if that happens and I ask that everyone look at what I’ve been able to do while serving in the minority and just imagine what I can accomplish serving in the majority.”
One of those accomplishments could be the long sought-after statehood for the nation’s capital that Norton has fought so gallantly for which would represent full congressional voting representation and full democracy for those living in the District.
“We have made considerable progress but remember the Republicans control the House, the Senate and the presidency,” Norton said. “I’ve spent the last few years getting every Democrat in the House to sponsor statehood and more than half of the Democrats in the Senate.
“I will have a strategy question as to whether to ask for a vote on statehood because we only have Democratic support and not yet enough votes,” she said. “Still, we are making considerable progress and if the Democrats win the House, the District wins statehood.”
Norton has also led efforts to mandate that federal government agencies spend some of their multibillion-dollar advertising budget with Black-owned newspapers.
“I was pleased that the Black Press came to me and educated me on this issue and, as a result, I said I know what I needed to do,” she said. “I knew that I had to get the Government Accountability Office report which is a very compelling report if you can get it. I did get it and the results were paltry with only 16 percent of federal contracts that went to newspapers that were owned by minorities and women.”
Norton said she will further address the discrepancy in the coming new year.
“I will be requesting from all the appropriations in next year’s appropriations to require that each government agency include advertising data in their budget requests,” she said. “This will alert them that Congress is looking to see if they are advertising with the Black Press.”