She wasn’t flashy, but for 30 years, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter represented Western New York with a grandmotherly demeanor, constant ear-to-ear smile, and syrupy Kentucky accent that belied two characteristics that served her well in office: compassion and toughness. When it came to helping constituents and fighting for the community she was tough. And through that toughness shined a compassion that, irrespective of the issue, was used to improve lives and provide opportunity and dignity.
When the Democrats re-took the majority of the House of Representative House in 2006 after 12 years of being in the minority, Slaughter became Chair of the all-powerful Rules Committee, shattering a glass ceiling for women. After Speaker Pelosi, she was arguably the most powerful woman in the House between 2007 and 2011 and played a big role in shaping and shepherding historic pieces of legislation through the House. To see her lead the fight for passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was to witness a true master of the House at work.
I had the opportunity to sit with Congresswoman Slaughter in 2014 at a dinner in honor of my congregation’s new senior Rabbi, and what I will always remember from that night was her approachability and down-to-earth nature. This past January, while waiting for a delayed flight out of Washington D.C., my wife spent several hours “chilling with Louise,” who was on the same flight back to Rochester. When other Congressmen came by, Louise would introduce my wife to the member, and after that individual walked away, she’d always have a comment or two to say.
“That one’s an old friend,” she’d say. Or “we’re going to beat him in November.” Always in a friendly “between-you-and-me” kind of way.
Too often the public takes a dim view of Congress and Washington, D.C., and not without some cause. Each week brings some fresh outrage that lowers our opinion and raises our ire at the men and women charged with representing us. Sexual harassment, office cover-ups, and extreme partisan bickering—not to mention the perceived hypocrisy of people speaking one message while delivering another—are just a few of the litany of reasons people seem disenchanted.
But Congresswoman Slaughter wasn’t like that. In 30 years she was never associated with any scandal or incident. And while she might have been a skilled politician, she tried her best to speak truth to power and be forthright with her constituents. More importantly, she comported herself with grace and dignity and demonstrated a standard of behavior against which all aspiring Congressmen or Congresswomen should measure themselves. Her presence in Washington, D.C will be greatly missed.
*Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter passed away on Friday, March 19th, 2018.