(Feb 11 1962-)
In the American Federal election on the 6th of November 2012, Tammy Baldwin was elected as Senator for the State of Wisconsin. Her victory is remarkable because she defeated well-liked Republican Senator Tommy Thompson. Even more importantly, she is also the first woman to represent Wisconsin in the Senate and the first openly gay Senator.
Baldwin holds a B.A from Smith College and a J.D from the University of Wisconsin Law School. She practiced law between 1989 and 1992. Baldwin is a member of the Democratic Party and has had a long political career in Wisconsin. She served as a member of the Wisconsin Assembly from 1993 to 1999. There she was a key proponent of marriage equality and women’s reproductive and health rights. After her term in the State Assembly, she sat in the US House of Representatives from 1999 until 2012. She labels herself a “progressive,” a moniker with a long political history in her state and her seven terms as a Democratic Congressperson marked her as one of the most liberal lawmakers in the country. For example, she voted, in each case unsuccessfully, against the invasion of Iraq in 2002 and against the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Banking Act (1933). According to many financial analysts, the repeal contributed, to the 2008+ recession.
While her progressive credentials are noteworthy, Baldwin’s political successes are especially remarkable because she is the first openly gay senator in US history. In her campaign victory speech, Baldwin stated “I am well aware that I will have the honor of being Wisconsin’s first woman senator! And I am well aware that I will be the first openly gay member! But—but I didn’t run to make history.”
Many commentaries have noted that Baldwin’s sexual orientation was virtually a non-issue during the election. Though the campaign of Baldwin’s political opponent, Tommy Thompson, openly attacked her support of gay pride marches and record on marriage equality and equal rights, many commentators noted that the Wisconsin voters did not consider her sexual orientation as a deciding factor.
While Baldwin’s sexual orientation was largely framed as a non-issue in both pre- and post- election analysis, her arrival in the Upper House is an important event within the larger American political context. It should be set against a backdrop of steady losses for equality advocates. Between 2004 and 2008, 21 states voted to define marriage as between “a man and a woman.” Baldwin’s success, in conjunction with several state votes in favour of same sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana, may indicate a changing mood within the USA. Where keeping sexual preferences out of political debates was once a privilege afforded only to straight politicians, the fact that Baldwin does not seem to have been elected (or defeated) on the basis of her sexual orientation suggests deeper shifts within electoral politics. It appears no longer unthinkable that citizens with variant sexualities can serve as elected representatives. It seems especially fitting that Wisconsin, the state that once elected the Progressive governor and senator, Robert La Follette (1855-1925), himself an advocate for minorities and women, should take the lead in the 21st century.
“The Career of Robert La Follette,” Wisconsin Historical Society, http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/tp-035/
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