While bombast and narcissism have the American consciousness in a chokehold this election season, New Hampshire senator Jeanne Shaheen remains ever above the melee, prizing compromise over obstructionism. She is still willing to roll up her sleeves and hammer out bipartisan bills, finding partners in even those Republican senators whose stances on reproductive freedom and the environment make her skin crawl. She has plenty to say about Donald Trump, sure, but she would rather focus on her legislative aims. Because as the race for the White House plods on, Shaheen has more immediate priorities: she has a job to do.
The only woman to be elected both a governor and a senator, Shaheen has represented New Hampshire in the Senate since 2009. Reelected in 2014 and driven by a deep reverence for our legislative process, Shaheen has continued to use the powers of her office to further substantive feminist goals.
Here, just a few of the bills Shaheen has championed:
She cosponsored the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which has made it easier for women to secure equal paychecks.
She pushed the Shaheen Amendment and saw it passed in 2012; it provides abortion access to women in the military who had been victims of sexual assault.
In 2015, she wrote legislation to support the effort to put a woman on the $20 bill and circulated fake bills on the Senate floor to draw attention to the movement. The stunt made an impression. The Treasury Department announced in April that Harriet Tubman would replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20.
A few weeks ago, she bagged a legislative unicorn: the Senate passed the Sexual Assault Survivors' Rights Act, which she sponsored, in a unanimous vote. The bill entitles victims to receive the results of any tests done on their rape kits and ensures that those kits be preserved at no cost until that state's statute of limitations has expired. A meeting with 24-year-old Amanda Nguyen, who was raped and currently has to file a request to have her rape kit preserved every six months, motivated Shaheen to spearhead the initiative.
"That needed to be fixed," Shaheen tells me when I reach her on the eve of the vote. She wears her matter-of-factness like a good suit — with evident pride.
Meanwhile, a conservative blogger once branded her a backer of "a radical abortion agenda" because of her tireless support for Planned Parenthood. A decisive endorsement!
Entrenched as she is in Congress, Shaheen has not forgotten the itch of activism. As we chat, she draws on her involvement in the social movements of the '60s over and over to animate her persistent commitments to women, to families, to fairness. She remembers, laughing now, how she lobbied at school to do away with a curfew that applied only to women and not to men. She won. And so wedded was she to her politics that when her now-husband Bill Shaheen spotted her on the street and wanted her number, she told him to "drop dead." That is a direct quote. They were engaged six weeks later.
Shaheen cannot stand the idea that all the work and care and decades of service have turned her into some congressional insider — a mere "establishment" politician. Nope. Meet a woman who will not be stripped of her bona fides.
Mattie Kahn: Was there a time as a young adult where you really felt you were taking a risk and you weren't sure if it was going to pay off?
Jeanne Shaheen: No — I came of age in the '60s. Like so many people then, I was paying attention to the civil-rights movement, the anti-war movement, the women's-rights movement. For most of us who came of age in that era, it was about trying to right the wrongs that we saw in the world. We didn't think of it as risk-taking. We felt we had to act.