Farewell to a Congressional Champion California Senator Barbara Boxer

Farewell to a Congressional Champion California Senator Barbara Boxer

S. E. Williams

As California Senator Barbara Boxer prepares to make her final exit from the United States Senate amid continuing controversy over the surprising outcome of this year’s election, it has stirred the memories of two other controversial election outcomes and reminded many of Barbara Boxer’s commitment to, “speak out and to never stop trying.” 

Most readily recall Florida in 2000; however, fewer may recall the anguish and controversy that surrounded George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004. That was the year the election was decided by the pivotal swing state—the state of Ohio. 

That year, Bush was re-elected over his democratic challenger John Kerry despite raging controversy over the Iraq war. He won 72 of Ohio’s 88 counties. 

On November 2, 2004, African Americans in the state of Ohio, particularly in and around Columbus, stood in line for hours attempting to exercise their right to vote—many were successful but thousands walked away without having an opportunity to cast their ballots. 

As it turned out, the county’s Board of Elections had reduced the number of voting machines in urban precincts where there were more African American voters who were also likely to vote for Kerry and simultaneously increased the number of voting machines in White suburban precincts, more likely to vote for Bush. The rest, of course, is history.

African Americans adamantly cried foul and demanded congressional acknowledgement of what occurred in Columbus—it would not change the outcome of the election; but it would put the nation on notice that the actions of the County Board of Elections in Ohio must be addressed. 

Out of 5.6 million votes cast nation-wide in that election, Bush was re-elected by less than 120,000 votes nationally. It is well known that at least 15,000 votes in the key swing state of Ohio were never cast. Kerry never complained; but the Congressional Black Caucus would not be silenced. 

Ohio Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones was joined by members of the caucus and other members of the U.S. House of Representatives to file a joint protest; but it took them weeks to find just one senator willing to stand with them. They knew they could not change the outcome of the election but believed they had a right to air the injustice perpetrated against Black voters in the state. 

Not even the Democratic candidate himself would stand with them. At the time, Kerry wrote, "Our legal teams on the ground have found no evidence that would change the outcome of the election." He appeared to miss the purpose of the protest which was not to challenge the outcome of the election (though many still believe that was a worthy objective); but rather to shore up the efficacy, accessibility and credibility of the electoral process. 

In the end, out of 100 United States Senators only one had unbridled courage and answered the call—California Senator Barbara Boxer. "This is my opening shot to be able to focus the light of truth on these terrible problems in the electoral system," Boxer stated at the time. "While we have men and women dying to bring democracy abroad, we've got to make it the best it can be here at home, and that's why I'm doing this."

Boxer went on to share her belief that there were a number of very troubling questions that needed to be answered and promised to push for a national proposal to ensure transparency and accountability in the nation’s voting process. 

On January 5, 2005, Boxer raised the protest before the joint session of congress previous to certification of the Electoral College votes. Although the electoral college votes were ultimately counted and certified as expected—on that day, owed to the unprecedented protest, what had historically been a perfunctory ceremony was delayed for several hours while Boxer and other Democrats took to the floor and expressed their dissatisfaction with faults in the electoral system. 

The battle over voting rights is epic, were certainly not resolved that January day in 2005, and will continue long into the future. 

Now, however, one of California’s boldest champions, a champion for all people, Senator Barbara Boxer has elected to leave the field. Her service to the state of California has made a difference in the lives of its citizens. Though a woman of small stature, in her long years of service she has covered a lot of ground both literally and figuratively. 

It seems appropriate that Boxer currently serves as the ranking member on the Senate Ethics Committee. Throughout her time in elected office she has remained a forceful advocate for families, children, consumers and the environment. When the 114th Congress gavels out in a few days it will simultaneously hammer out an ending to Boxer’s long and purposeful career. 

Boxer was swept into the United States Senate during the election of 1992, now hailed as The Year of the Woman—a backlash to the inglorious Anita Hill Hearings and the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court. 

When Boxer was sworn in as senator in January in 1993, she brought with her years of public service. Previous to her election as senator she had served ten years in the U.S. House of Representatives and before that, six years on the Marin County Board of Supervisors. In November 2010, Boxer was elected to her fourth term in the senate. 

In addition to her role on the Senate Ethics Committee, Boxer is a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee and chairs the first subcommittee to focus on global women’s issues. In addition, as a member of the Democratic leadership in the Senate she has served as the Chief Deputy Whip since 2005. 

In 2009, as the world economy was falling down around the Inland Empire, just as it was in the rest of the state and the nation, it was Senator Barbara Boxer who pushed successfully to include $70 million in funding for key projects in the area as part of the Fiscal Year 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill. 

Over the years, Boxer used her political capital to agitate for change on several significant issues that ranged from the protection of more than a million acres of California wilderness; after school programs; legislation against human pesticide testing; legislation to protect waterways, fisheries and farmers; increased funding for Pell-grants; combat care facilities for veterans; and legislation against child trafficking, just to name a few. 

Among Boxer’s signature achievements as senator were her successful leadership efforts as Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee that resulted in the passage of a bipartisan transportation bill that saved and/or created nearly three million jobs nationwide. This came on the heels of her success in 2010, that resulted in an extension of the Highway Trust Fund that helped protect approximately one million transportation jobs across the country. 

In addition, Boxer worked judiciously to clean-up and protect the environment while also working to mitigate the threats of climate change. 

Last week, in her farewell address on the senate floor, Boxer paid tribute to those who stood with her along the way including her partner from California Senator Dianne Feinstein. Boxer also expressed her deep appreciation to Anita Hill when she said, "Without her I never would have been elected to the Senate." 

Boxer leaves the U. S. Senate as she arrived so many long years ago—blazing a trail for others to follow. For the first time in American history a female senator leaving the senate is being replaced by another female. California Attorney General Kamala Harris was elected to replace Boxer in the 115th Congress. 

Thank you, Barbara Boxer, for a job well done.

Barbara Boxers’ legislative accomplishments during her tenures in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are too numerous to list. Following is just a small sampling of some of her legislative achievements.

DMV Disclosure – 1993 

Boxer co-authored an amendment to prohibit any state motor vehicle department from disclosing certain personal information. It became law in 1994 and was ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court

Violence Against Women Act – 1994 

Boxer assisted now Vice-President Joe Biden in passing the Violence Against Women Act that has raised awareness about violence against women, increased the number of shelters for abused women, and trained judges, police, and prosecutors on how to deal with violent crimes against women. 

Bridges – 1994 

Boxer wrote and passed bill to permit the use of highway funds to retrofit bridges to help ensure that bridges could withstand earthquakes 

After-school programs – 2001 

Boxer successfully passed the first-ever authorization with specific funding for after-school programs—programs that are not funded at a rate of 1.15 billion dollars and serve more nearly 1.6 million children 

Brownfield sites – 2001 

Boxer authored a provision that prioritized cleanup of Brownfield sites affecting children and vulnerable populations. 

Wilderness Provision – 2002 

Boxer championed the protection of 57,000 acres in Big Sur and the Los Padres Forest 

Pesticide testing – 2005 

Boxer provided an amendment to the Interior appropriations bill to prohibit the use of funds for the unethical human testing of pesticides. It also established standards for such testing consistent with National Academy of Sciences recommendations and the Nuremberg Code and established an independent review board to oversee human testing. 

Combat Care Center – 2006 

Advocates for severely wounded service members contacted Boxer for assistance in establishing a combat care center in San Diego to treat the high number of wounded service members from the San Diego/ Camp Pendleton area. She secured the funds and assured they were continuously provided 

Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act – 2006 

Boxer wrote legislation that designated over 273,000 acres in California as wilderness 

Key amendments to toy safety legislation – 2008 

Authored two amendments to the consumer product safety bill that required the same ‘choking hazard’ warnings printed on toy packaging to be displayed prominently on online retail websites or catalogues; and, required manufacturers of durable infant or toddler products to provide consumers with postage-paid registration forms so consumers could be better informed if the product they bought was recalled

Defense Task Force on Mental Health – 2006 

Boxer amended the Defense Authorization Bill to create the Defense Task Force on Mental Health and submitted a long-term plan to help the Department of Defense improve the efficacy of mental health services provided to members of the Armed Forces. The Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury was subsequently opened at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. 

Foster Care – 2007 

Boxer authored legislation to extend essential foster care services to young people between the ages of 18 and 21 

Homeowner alert – 2009 

Boxer authored an amendment to require that homeowners be alerted within thirty days if their lender sells or transfers their home mortgage loan. 

The Omnibus Public Lands Package of 2009 

This legislation included three bills authored by Boxer that designated more than 700,000 acres of federal public land in California as wilderness 

Lead in drinking water – 2011 

Boxer co-sponsored legislation to strengthen standards to protect people from toxic lead in drinking water by uniformly reducing the allowable lead content in drinking water pipes, pipe fittings and plumbing fixtures to nearly zero 

Senate Climate Action Task Force – 2014 

Boxer led the formation of the Senate Climate Action Task Force dedicated to acting to reduce dangerous carbon pollution and to address climate change.

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