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US House gets first female speaker

Nov 08, 2006 10:13 PM IST India India

Denver (Colorado): With Tuesday's takeover of the House the chamber's, Nancy Pelosi became the first madam speaker in US history.

“Tonight is a great victory for the American people. Today the American people voted for change and they voted for democrats to take them in a new direction,” she said on Wednesday.

On the other side of the political aisle, republicans say they expected a tough night.

Ken Mehlman RNC chairman said, “We always recognised this was going to be a challenging year. Whenever the nations at war the presidents party typically loses seats.”

Like all elections it comes down to turnout, the dwindling queues in Denver, Colorado looked like a huge turnout but it was problems at the poll. Some left without voting prompting democrats to ask for a two-hour extension, which the Denver district court has denied. Voters say what's driving them to the polls are national issues.

“There is that general philosophy that all politics is local, but I don't think so this time around,”

How she got here
Pelosi can't take too much credit for her party's triumph. On top of an unpopular president and war, Republicans, in the months before midterms, fell victim to a variety of scandals that undoubtedly played a role in giving the Democrats back the House they lost in 1994.

Republican Rep Tom DeLay was indicted on state money-laundering charges in Texas (he has denied wrongdoing); Republican Rep Bob Ney of Ohio resigned his seat last week after pleading guilty in an influence-peddling investigation; and Republican Rep Mark Foley of Florida resigned in September after his sexually explicit Internet messages to teen congressional pages surfaced.

"Maybe it takes a woman to clean house," said Pelosi, a mother of five. Asked if her remark was deliberately sexist, she replied, "It is. Because the fact is a woman represents what's new, because it's never happened before."

But she is not without her detractors, including moderates in her own party who worry privately that handing the San Francisco firebrand the gavel may paint all Democrats with a liberal brush.
Also, Republicans, who generally oppose her political ideals, openly warn that a Democratic majority will mean endless and frivolous investigations into the Bush administration.

Pelosi dismisses the notion that Democratic subpoena power would lead to anything frivolous.

"We all have the constitutional responsibility to have checks and balances and oversight. That's what the Congress does," she said.

Political upbringing
Pelosi learned politics as a child. Her father, Thomas D'Alesandro served in the House from 1939 to 1947 and was mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, for 12 years after that. Her brother, Thomas D'Alesandro III, also served as Baltimore mayor from 1967 to 1971.

Pelosi herself became interested in politics at a young age. At 16, she took her friends to hear John F Kennedy speak about his book, "Profiles in Courage."

Throughout the late '70s and '80s, Pelosi held several positions in the California Democratic Party, including state chair from 1981 to 1983. She was first elected to the US House in a June 1987 special election to fill the seat of the late Rep Sala Burton.

She served on the Appropriations Committee, the Banking and Financial Services Committee, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (ethics) and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence before taking on the role of minority whip, then minority leader.

In 2002, her political action committee set a record for doling out money to Democratic candidates.

But despite Pelosi's tenure and accomplishments, a recent poll indicates that many people still don't know what to think of her.

In a CNN poll conducted this week by Opinion Research Corp, 35 percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of Pelosi, 24 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion and 42 percent said they weren't sure.

Pelosi is unfazed, and according to Newsweek, already had a grand plan for the House before her speakership seemed so likely.

"You must drain the swamp if you are going to govern for the people," she reportedly said during a speech at a senior center in Portland, Oregon. The Republicans, she added, "have forgotten who they work for. (Democrats) haven't had a bill on the floor for 12 years. We're not here to whine about it; we will do it better. I intend to be very fair. I do not intend to give away the gavel."

Her job won't be easy, as several newly elected moderate and conservative Democrats are likely to force the party to shift toward the center.

Thomas Mann, a senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institute, said, "The trick for Pelosi and the other leaders is going to be to find issues that unify the various wings of the party."

(With inputs from