December 22, 2015

Congresswoman Coleman: A Fresh Face on Capitol Hill

Congresswoman Coleman: A Fresh Face on Capitol Hill
Eitan Szteinbaum ‘19

Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District is a far cry from the “typical” member of Congress.
Born and raised in central New Jersey, Coleman is noteworthy as the first African-American woman to represent her district in Congress and as one of the few on Capitol Hill today.
Coleman is a long-time politician. Before winning her Congressional seat in 2014, she established the First Office of Civil Rights in the New Jersey Department of Transportation and served on the Governing Boards Association of State Colleges.
Coleman recognizes that Congress is still “a man’s world” and a difficult atmosphere for people of minority backgrounds.
“80% of congress is still controlled by men,” she said. “A majority of those seats are not held by minorities, so being a woman and being a woman of color brings its challenges, but also brings its opportunity.
“There are… now over 100 women in congress… we are moving in the right direction. The diversity, not only in race but in gender, is a better reflection of what our country looks like, but we still have a long way to go.”
As a black woman, Coleman struggles with the stigma about her political beliefs. Many people assume that, since she is a minority woman, she must be very liberal. Although Coleman identifies as a Democrat and confesses that her experiences as a minority woman have impacted her politics, she is working to combat that confining stereotype.
Another important component of Coleman’s political ideology – one that seems to contradict her progressive image – is her Christian faith. She is guided by her belief that “G-d is a faithful G-d… and that he has put us down here for a purpose and that purpose is to be accepting to others.”
Coleman’s beliefs about women in Congress extend to women in the workforce. She believes that in order to equalize the male-female wage gap and other gender discrepancies, “we need more progressives elected to office” and we have to make sure that “there are no ‘women’s jobs.’
     “I believe there was a time when people expected women to go into sociology, and maybe psychology and teaching… but that’s changing now. The more women we get elected, the more women we get appointed, the better we will… the direction moving more into equality.”
    The Congresswoman also supports affirmative action, a program that encourages schools and employers to give additional opportunities to minority groups.
“Affirmative action has gotten a bad reputation,” she explained. “It simply provides a mechanism to manipulate the system, which when applied neutrally had a disparaging impact on certain classes and certain races… you had to eliminate those systems and create opportunities.”
Not surprisingly, Coleman supports the plight of the Democrats running for President.
“I think [the candidates] are all ideologically aligned for the most part,” she observed. “They are concerned about working class families, they’re concerned about debt free education, they’re concerned about job opportunities … and all those things.”
Coleman is especially impressed with Hillary Clinton, who, according to the Congresswoman, has done impressive work and enacted meaningful change during her long tenure in government.
Despite her progressive beliefs, Coleman is somewhat sympathetic toward the Republican presidential candidates. She sees that this election is a complex and interesting one for the GOP, because the candidates “seem to be brushing themselves over to the ultra-conservative right wing.
“I don’t know if that’s truly reflective of who they are, but that’s certainly who they appear to be at this stage.”

Too often, the virtues of Congress are overshadowed by misconceptions of it being stagnant, homogeneous and inefficient. Coleman, however, highlights the best of Capitol Hill: diversity, optimism and the drive to have a real impact on the lives of the American people. 

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