Senator Barb is stepping down. On Monday morning in Fell’s Point, Barbara Mikulski announced she won’t seek another term as U.S. Senator in 2016. As it usually goes these days, the news was out before the announcement was made, and the conversation about who was going to replace her started while the mic was still hot. But before we move to the next news cycle, let’s take a moment to look at what Baltimore and Maryland will lose as the 78-year-old Mikulski ends her long, influential tenure in Washington:
The longest-serving woman in the history of Congress. Mikulski first went to Washington as a Congresswoman in 1977. She moved to the upper chamber ten years later, becoming “the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in her own right.” Along the way, she amassed a record and reputation that have her fellow pols calling her a “giant of public service” today. Even big-time Democrats like Hillary Clinton seem to suck up to her like they need something. From that position, Mikulski has fought for equal pay legislation and programs that expand child care support. She’s long provided young women jobs in her office, and hosted regular lunches for female senators. At each turn, she’s helped women in politics, and used politics to help women.
A Baltimore native. Mikulski is from Highlandtown, through and through. One of her first political campaigns was the fight to stop building Interstate 70 through Fell’s Point and Canton. She announced her retirement just blocks from S. Eden St., where her parents owned a neighborhood grocery. She routinely references the area and lends her influence to local causes. As Senator Barb retires we’re left wondering: Who will Kathy Bates listen to when she wants to practice her accent now?
Maryland’s Senior Senator. In blue-as-the-ocean Maryland, Mikulski is the de-facto leader of the state’s sizable Democratic party. Her retirement comes months after Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown suffered a surprise upset at the hands of the GOP in the governor’s race, and former Gov. Martin O’Malley is grasping to find a foothold in a presidential nomination race that orbits Planet Hillary. Even if O’Malley throws his name in the race to take over Mikulski’s seat, her retirement will be held up as another reason that the state’s Democrats are looking rudderless these days.
Top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Congress’ key Constitutional responsibility is the power of the purse, and the Senate Appropriations Committee has the tightest grip on the purse strings. Mikulski became the Chairwoman of that committee in 2012, taking over a seat that wields extensive power over how much money government departments get to operate. As her biography notes, that made her the first woman and first Marylander to hold the position. While she was demoted to ranking member as Republicans took over Congress at the beginning of 2016, Mikulski’s retirement means Maryland is unlikely to have someone in such a powerful Senate position anytime soon.
The “Meanest” Senator. Among her other accolades, Mikulski has been voted Washingtonian’s Meanest Senator on numerous occasions. The temper even became meme-worthy after Mikulski said she got “volcanic” while listening to the reasons that Senators wouldn’t pass equal pay legislation last year. Her many supporters have always said Mikulski’s eruptions are part of her authenticity, and that they underscore the fact that she is tough and fearless. Mikulski even acknowledged the streak in her retirement speech when she asked, “Do I spend my time raising money, or raising hell to meet your day-to-day needs?” Let’s face it: You don’t climb to a power position in an old boy’s club by being nice all the time. Before the Republican Revolution of 1994, this is the woman who led the pantsuit rebellion of 1993.
Mikulski’s attitude is perhaps best reflected in her own rallying cry: “Women of America: Get out there, square your shoulders, suit up, put your lipstick on and get ready for the revolution.”
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