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Marcy Kaptur breaks new congressional record but has a familiar message for the institution: “See us”

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CNN

Representative Marcy Kaptur becomes the oldest woman in Congress this week after winning her first competitive race in decades. But she sees her work in Washington as far from over.

“I operate in a different way than a lot of my colleagues just because of what I’ve been through,” said the Ohio Democrat, who was the first in her family to graduate from college and represents the kind of Rust Belt community that veers away from its party. .

“Then why am I staying? It wasn’t just to get a title that she stayed the longest. But to use every ounce of strength, I must try to hammer home this message: you are leaving us behind. You don’t see us.

First elected in 1982, Kaptur became the longest-serving woman in the United States House of Representatives in 2018. But now she is breaking the record of former Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, a fellow Democrat who has retired at the end of 2016 after 40 years in Congress. . All the while, Kaptur has urged his party — especially the leadership, which has often been dominated by coastal lawmakers — to wake up to the plight of “industrial, agricultural America,” not just for party survival. , but also for democracy.

In an interview with CNN late last year, Kaptur recalled approaching a “very senior member of the House” and warning that the federal government needed to invest in the middle of the country. “We are going to have political unrest. I even used a stronger word. I said even maybe fascism,” she said.

This was before the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol.

Kaptur won a 21st term in November in a district that was redrawn from heavily Democratic to more Republican, defeating a Holocaust denier who was on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6.

JR Majewski said he went to protest peacefully and left when “it got ugly,” but the House GOP campaign arm eventually cut spending on him in the district after revelations that he allegedly distorted his military record. Kaptur, despite being criticized by some voters that she stayed in Washington too long, won by 13 points.

“I see myself as the Statue of Liberty atop the Capitol. She’s a woman and she’s looking east toward the rising sun,” said Kaptur, who counts the 17-year-old wrestling among his proudest accomplishments. for the construction of the World War II memorial. It was one of her constituents, a letter carrier from the village of Berkey, who pushed her to introduce a law about it.

Kaptur left a doctoral program at MIT to run for Congress, having previously worked for President Jimmy Carter as a domestic policy adviser. She was one of 24 women in Congress when she arrived. Today there are 149.

“So that’s really a massive step forward – in a generation,” Kaptur said of the record number of women in service this year. She wrote a book in 1996 about women in Congress in the 20th century, joking that she was too busy to update it.

But having more women in Congress is less important to Kaptur than where the women come from and the types of communities they represent.

“As a woman, let me say that if you’re from the part of America where I am — and I don’t just mean geographically, but I mean economically — we still don’t have a majority. ”

“What is the difference between a very wealthy woman and a man in Congress? asked Kaptur, who lives in the same Toledo house where she grew up. “People like us, we are there. Here we are. We are radishes in a salad. … But we are important voices because what we have experienced informs the dialogue.

She fought for years to secure a spot on the House Appropriations Committee – ultimately clashing with Nancy Pelosi. “I was so offended,” Kaptur said, calling it “a tough worker’s fight” against a former Democratic Party leader from California.

Kaptur has occasionally been at odds with Pelosi in leadership races – even briefly challenging her for party leader in 2002 – although the two women have recently welcomed and supported each other. Kaptur’s voting record on abortion has also moved to be more in line with the national party.

When the Ohio Democrat first came to the Appropriations Committee in the early 1990s, she was one of only three women. Democratic then-Rep. Lindy Boggs from Louisiana had to tell her to stand up when she addressed the panel.

She sought in vain to lead the committee – losing out to women from more coastal states. But in 2019, she became the first woman to chair the subcommittee on energy and water development and its bill to create the Great Lakes Authority – a federal regional commission to deal with environmental and economic issues – was recently adopted as part of the spending omnibus program.

Still, she says, it can be difficult to be heard.

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“When you’re not at the head, you don’t have a seat at the table – maybe you have your subcommittee or your committee, something like that – but it’s almost impenetrable,” said she said of the institution. “And the American people know it. They feel it and that is why they are becoming radicalized in their political expressions.

But she credits President Joe Biden with visiting Lorain, a town in northeast Ohio, last year. ” This is unheard of. Joe Biden is trying. He’s part of a group that can’t see places like Lorain, Cleveland and Toledo.

She laments the loss of Democrat Tim Ryan, whom she supported in the Ohio Senate race last year, and blames the National Party for long ignoring disgruntled voters who ultimately backed the Republican nominee.

“So my fight is endless. And I hope God gives me the years, maybe I can drive some of that meaning into the institution, but I don’t know,” Kaptur said.

And then, laughing, later added, “I have to stay as long as Mitch McConnell.”

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