Democratic Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, who is finishing her first month representing the 12th District, said she has mixed feelings about being the first African American woman from New Jersey sworn in to Congress. (Donald Payne was the first African American to represent N.J. in Congress in 1989)
On the one hand, she’s certainly proud of the distinction. On the other hand, she finds it sad that it didn’t happen until 2015.
“There have been decades of missed opportunity in a state as diverse as New Jersey,” she said. “It should have happened a long time ago. But it’s happened now, and I’m going to do the best I can.”
In retrospect, she considers rhetoric about a “post-racial” America after Barack Obama’s election to be almost laughable. What happened instead, Watson Coleman said, is that Obama’s presidency brought out a virulent strain of racism among his opponents that had previously been in the shadows.
“It’s like we’re dealing with issues that we thought we had won decades ago,” Watson Coleman said.
She admits that she didn’t get elected at an ideal time for progressive Democrats like herself, with Republicans now controlling both the House and the Senate.
Compounding her challenges is the fact that she came to Washington with an agenda not likely to win many adherents among hardcore conservatives.
“I want to make sure our workers have decent wages and benefits,” she said. “Given the nature of this Congress, I want to make sure I’m fighting as hard as I can for a woman’s right to choose. For unfettered voting rights. I want to make sure that there’s access to affordable housing, and that same-sex marriages are not endangered.”
Still, she said she’s not worried. She’s been in the minority party before in New Jersey’s legislature, and knows how to work around it.
A big part of her plan involves taking advantage of divisions she sees in the Republican Party between moderates and the Tea Party wing.
“There’s definitely a fracture in the party, and it’s a good, healthy fracture as far as I’m concerned,” she said. “Because the Tea Party represents extremism.”
She points to an episode earlier this month when several Republican women in Congress rebelled against a bill that would have banned abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, allowing an exception for rape victims only if they reported the rape to law enforcement. She sees that as a sign that many within the Republican ranks are getting fed up with the right-wing fringe of their own party.
“I’m looking for a few good people I can work with,” she said. “Get to know them and have them get to know me so we’re not just reacting to labels.”
Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat, is in her first term in Congress. She represents New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District, which include parts of Mercer, MIddlesex, Somerset and Union counties. Some of the towns in her district include: Trenton, Princeton, South Brunswick, Manville and Scotch Plains.
Coleman was sworn in to Congress earlier this month. Democrat Rush Holt, who choose not to run for reelection, represented the 12th District from 1999 to 2015.
Bonnie Watson Coleman’s offices:
Washington, DC Office
126 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
850 Bear Tavern Road
Ewing, NJ 08628
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This post is part of our South Jersey Politics Blog