As Congress decides its summer agenda, newcomer Donna Edwards (D-Md.) hasn’t wasted any time making her presence known. Edwards was sworn in last month as the first African American woman in Congress from the state of Maryland. Just her second day on the job she voted against the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) amendment, which allows for the dismissal of all cases against telecommunications companies that have been accused of illegal wiretapping during the past seven years.
According to Edwards, who is representing Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, there are many issues on her agenda already. “My major concerns revolve around issues of energy costs and its impacts on the environment [and] the economy, healthcare access and costs, foreclosure and affordable housing, and bringing an immediate and responsible end to the war in Iraq,” she says. “Voters want someone who has a deep understanding of issues that are important to them—healthcare, energy, the war in Iraq, and the foreclosure crisis.”
Edwards, a 49-year-old lawyer and nonprofit executive, won a special election beating Republican Peter James in the race to serve the remainder of former Rep. Albert Wynn’s term. Wynn exited Congress on May 31 to take a lobbying position after a primary election defeat to Edwards in February. Wynn served from 1992 to 2008.
Edwards will retain the Congressional seat for the remainder of the year, facing James again in November’s general election. Edwards most recently led the nonprofit, grant-making, charitable group Arca Foundation.
For Gerald G. Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, Edwards’ win is more than symbolic. “Donna Edwards swearing in as the [state’s] first African American female to Congress is truly significant and important to the history of the state of Maryland,” he says. “Similar to the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, we expect Congresswoman Edwards to be a strong feminist and civil rights advocate, and we applaud her for this achievement.”
In fact, Edwards says it was women such as Chisholm who inspired her entry into politics and community service. “Growing up, I was inspired tremendously by women leaders such as Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm. I’m honored to be in their company,” she says. “I am excited and honored in the confidence that the voters of Maryland’s 4th Congressional District have placed in me to provide the quality representation they deserve.”
Edwards says her involvement with nonprofit work will aid her in Congress. “I have enjoyed a career as a public interest advocate working on local, state, regional, and federal issues. Some of these experiences include playing an integral part in passing landmark domestic violence legislation, helping community organizations better their neighborhoods, lowering prescription drug prices for seniors, and ensuring that large federal transportation projects include mass transit,” she says. “I have been able to accomplish these things from outside the Congress, and I am confident in my ability to use those experiences to get things done now as a member of Congress.”