Shea-Porter Reflects After 4 Terms in Congress
Troublesome T-shirts have become a bit of a tradition for Democrats elected to Congress from New Hampshire's 1st District.
More than a decade before Rep.-elect Chris Pappas was criticized by his opponent for wearing a shirt featuring the word "Resist," Carol Shea-Porter was thrown out of a 2005 President George W. Bush town hall after revealing a red T-shirt with the message "Turn Your Back on Bush." The anti-Iraq War activist pulled off a surprise win the following year, was re-elected in 2008 and then traded the seat back and forth with Republican Frank Guinta in each of the next four cycles.
Shea-Porter was the first woman elected to Congress from New Hampshire, and later part of the nation's first all-female delegation in Washington. She decided not to seek re-election, and said Monday that after taking some vacation time, she might start writing a column, speaking to high school and college students, joining nonprofit boards or working on a presidential campaign. She's also not ruling out another run for office herself.
"Clearly I'm not going to walk away," she said. "I think we all need to stay engaged."
She said it was a privilege to vote for legislation that's changed people's lives in areas such as health care and equal rights, including the Affordable Care Act, the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on gay and lesbian military service, and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act prohibiting gender-based wage discrimination. She's particularly proud of her work to ensure that college administrators calculating financial aid packages take into account expenses families face carrying for adult children with disabilities, and to help troops exposed to toxic waste via open air burn pits.
Those successes, as well as a desire to right other wrongs, propelled her forward despite her district's penchant for pingponging between the two political parties.
"It was worth it to me to dust myself off and get going again," she said. "Of course you're going to win some and lose some. It never really struck at my core, I never really took it personally."
Wayne Lesperance, political science professor at New England College, said Shea-Porter is perhaps more known for those close campaigns than any particular piece of legislation, particularly her initial victory.
"Shea-Porter was a progressive before most Granite Staters thought progressives could win in New Hampshire. She won in a 5 way primary and then in the general election against an incumbent, redefining what's possible in New Hampshire politics," he said in an email.
Shea-Porter's departure decision set off a swarm of candidates for the district's first open seat in 16 years. Pappas, who defeated 10 other Democrats in the September primary and Republican Eddie Edwards in the general election, praised Shea-Porter when he was asked during an October debate whether he has any role models in Congress.
"Our current representative is the same person today as she winds up her career as she was when she went down in 2006," he said. "I think that's an admirable quality, the authenticity that she brings to the position."
Pappas will be the state's first openly gay member of Congress. The shirt Edwards criticized featured rainbow-striped lettering, and Pappas said it was meant to advocate for gay rights rather than an intent to undermine the Trump administration.
"Chris' shirt was a message of hope as much as anything else, and so was mine," Shea-Porter said. "There was nothing angry about Chris's shirt. It was just silliness," she said of the criticism.
—Holly Ramer, Associated Press