Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the longest serving woman in Congress, announced Monday that she will not seek re-election in 2016.
At a press conference announcing her decision, Mikulski said she had asked herself, “Do I spend time my raising money, or do I spend my time raising hell?”
Elected to the House in 1976 and the Senate in 1986, she was the first female Democratic senator elected in her own right, not preceded by a husband or a father.
“Barbara Mikulski is among the fiercest advocates for women and families that Washington has ever seen,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, in a statement. The then newly formed EMILY’s List, which supports pro-choice women candidates for office, helped get Mikulski elected in 1986.
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As the first female chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Mikulski worked to pass a continuing resolution at the end of 2013 that avoided a government shutdown. In December, she helped broker an omnibus spending bill that fended off Republican attacks on reproductive health care and included some improvements like abortion coverage equity for Peace Corps volunteers.
“She’s always upheld the values and principles of fairness,” Fred D. Mason Jr., president of the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, told Rewire. “She was always equal to the task, always true to her advocacy, particularly for working women and men in the state of Maryland.”
Mikulski has been known to mentor and inspire other female legislators. “I will never forget the encouragement she gave me when I first considered running for Senate,” said Barbara Boxer (D-CA), another long-serving female senator who will not seek re-election in 2016, in a statement. “Every woman in the Senate has stories of Senator Mikulski reaching out to us, mentoring us and helping us along the way.”
Mikulski hosted monthly dinners for female senators, and she became famous for protesting for the right to wear pants on the Senate floor. She fought for equal pay for women, inserted language into the Affordable Care Act addressing preventive care for women, and was known as a tough advocate for liberal and progressive values who also emphasized building consensus with Republican colleagues.
“What’s not to love?” Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers, told Rewire in an email. “Sen. Mikulski was on the forefront of the fight to #bringbackourgirls, expand access to early childhood and higher education, and ensure that all pantsuit wearers have a fair shot.”