Sen. Barbara Boxer (D)
Elected: 1992, term expires 2010, 3rd term.
Born: Nov. 11, 1940, Brooklyn, NY .
Home: Rancho Mirage.
Education: Brooklyn Col., B.A. 1962.
Family: Married (Stewart); 2 children.
Elected office: Marin Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, 1976–82; U.S. House of Reps., 1982–92.
Professional Career: Stockbroker & researcher, 1962–65; Journalist, Pacific Sun, 1972–74; Dist. aide, U.S. Rep. John Burton, 1974–76.
Barbara Boxer, California’s junior senator, is a Democrat first elected to the House in 1982 and a decade later to the Senate. She is the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Boxer grew up in Brooklyn. In 1962, she graduated from Brooklyn College, where she met her husband, Stewart. The couple moved to Marin County in 1968. Boxer, a stockbroker, volunteered for Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign that year. In 1970, she and some neighbors formed the Marin Alternative to oppose the Vietnam War. Marin County was only on its way to being trendy then; the overall political tone was liberal Republican, but heading left. In 1972, Boxer ran for the Board of Supervisors and lost to an incumbent Republican. She then went to work as an aide to Democratic U.S. Rep. John Burton. In 1976, she ran again for the county board and won. When Burton retired unexpectedly in 1982, Boxer ran for the House seat and was easily elected. In the House, she was known for her aggressive investigation into wasteful spending, unearthing the Air Force’s $7,622 coffee pot in 1984, and for her vocal opposition to the Gulf War in the early 1990s. She also led a group of women House members in a march to the steps of the Senate to demand hearings into law professor Anita Hill’s sexual-harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas, who was in the process of being confirmed for appointment to the Supreme Court.
|Barbara Boxer (D)||6,955,728||(58%)||($14,886,426)|
|Bill Jones (R)||4,555,922||(38%)||($7,802,657)|
|Barbara Boxer (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 1998 (53%), 1992 (48%), 1990 House (68%), 1988 House (73%), 1986 House (74%), 1984 House (68%), 1982 House (52%)
In 1992, Boxer ran for the Senate. She started off as neither the best-known nor the best-financed candidate, but 1992 turned out to be the “Year of the Woman,” in which the enthusiasm of the feminist left helped produce important victories for Democratic candidates. Boxer won the June primary with 44% of the vote, to 31% for Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy and 22% for U.S. Rep. Mel Levine. In the general election, her opponent was Bruce Herschensohn, a Los Angeles television and radio commentator. The Boxer-Herschensohn race was a battle of opposites, the far left versus the far right of the ideological spectrum. Herschensohn opposed abortion rights and advocated a flat tax and offshore oil drilling. Boxer’s positions were precisely the opposite. Her bid was helped by the poor showing of President George H.W. Bush’s campaign in California and by the revelation late in the campaign that Herschensohn had frequented nightclubs that featured nude dancers. She won with 48% of the vote.
Boxer’s voting record is among the most liberal in the Senate. She is one of the strongest proponents of abortion rights in Congress and a prime sponsor of the Freedom of Choice Act, which would nullify all state restrictions on abortion. Boxer has pulled back when she has sensed she doesn’t have the votes. In 2005, she declined to bring forward a bill blocking a law that allowed health care providers to refuse to perform abortions, and the following year, she declined to filibuster a bill penalizing those who transport minors across state lines to get abortions.
She was a staunch defender of President Bill Clinton during the impeachment proceedings in 1998, when the president was accused of lying about an extramarital affair with a White House intern. In 2001, Boxer supported the use of force in Afghanistan. But in October 2002, she voted against the use of force in Iraq, and she later cast votes against funding for the war. In January 2005, as the electoral vote count was read out to a joint session of Congress, she was the one senator to protest the awarding of Ohio’s electoral votes to Republican President George W. Bush. She recalled that four years earlier, no senator had protested the Florida vote in the bitterly contested presidential contest of 2000, and Boxer said she regretted not having protested then. Her protest triggered the dissolution of the joint session and a debate in each of the two chambers. The Senate voted 74-1 to accept the Ohio count, with Boxer as the lone dissenter, and the House voted 267-31 on the same question. “I hate inconveniencing my friends, but I think it’s worth a couple of hours to shine some light on these issues,” Boxer said. In January 2005, Boxer engaged in a stinging denunciation of Condoleezza Rice during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Rice’s nomination as secretary of state. Rice’s “loyalty to the mission,” Boxer said, “overwhelmed your respect for the truth.” Speaking of the troops, she said, “You sent them in there because of weapons of mass destruction. Later the mission changed when there were none.” Rice responded, “I really hope you will refrain from impugning my integrity. I really hope that you will not imply that I take the truth lightly.”
Boxer has supported gun control and has sponsored amendments to require childproof safety locks on all handguns and to ban sales of guns to people who are intoxicated. But in summer 2002, she and Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning emerged as the Senate’s leading advocates of allowing airline pilots to carry guns. Boxer argued that pilots could be trusted with that responsibility and that they could protect passengers against terrorists. The measure passed in both the House and Senate. In 2003, Boxer warned of the danger to airliners from shoulder-fired missiles and called for installation of anti-missile devices on all airliners.
During the Clinton years, Boxer was frustrated when Republicans held up nominations to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, long the most liberal in the country. During the Bush years, she held up nominations of judges she considered too conservative. In 2001, she opposed the nomination of Rep. Christopher Cox of California to the Ninth Circuit. When Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she might oppose him too, Cox withdrew. In 2005, Boxer said she would “use all the parliamentary tools I’ve been given as a U.S. senator” to delay a vote on the confirmation of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, and she voted against both Roberts and Samuel Alito. It was a case of life imitating art, or perhaps the other way around: Later in 2005, Boxer’s novel A Time to Run was published. It is tale about a liberal woman senator from California opposing a conservative Supreme Court nominee.
In recent years, Boxer has concentrated on environmental issues. As the ranking minority member on the Environment and Public Works Committee during the years of Republican control of Congress, she sparred continually with conservative Chairman James Inhofe of Oklahoma over the issue of reducing carbon emissions to combat global warming. Inhofe famously said that the theory of human-caused global warming was a “hoax.” The committee’s emphasis changed abruptly when Democrats won the Senate majority in 2006. Boxer made addressing the causes of global warming her top legislative priority and assigned herself the chairmanship of the subcommittee on Public Sector Solutions to Global Warming, Oversight, Children’s Health Protection and Nuclear Safety. “I really have two major goals,” she said on becoming chairman. “They are to protect the health of the American people. And the second is to make the environment a bipartisan issue again on Capitol Hill.”
But her aggressive style did not always foster bipartisanship. In December 2007, she harshly criticized Environmental Protection Agency chief Stephen Johnson for refusing to grant a waiver allowing California’s tough carbon-emissions law to go into effect. She sought access to an EPA staff document recommending a waiver and accused Johnson of lying. She fumed during the summer and fall of 2008 when he refused to appear before the committee and testify. Inhofe boycotted the hearings as well.
Boxer’s primary goal is to enact a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions, which she has called “the greatest challenge of our generation.” Such a system would allow companies to trade emissions “credits,” depending on the amount of pollution they generate. Boxer called former Vice President Al Gore to testify in a highly publicized hearing in March 2007, showering him with praise for his campaign to spur action on global warming. One of her great allies on the issue has been Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who co-sponsored cap-and-trade bills with Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and John Warner of Virginia. In July 2006, when Lieberman was opposed by anti-Iraq War candidate Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary, Boxer traveled to Connecticut to campaign for Lieberman, telling his antiwar critics, “Senator Lieberman has been one of my staunchest allies on the environment and choice, two issues very important to me.”
In 2007, Boxer’s subcommittee took up the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill, and in nearly 10 hours of hearings, she fended off more-restrictive amendments from independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and less-restrictive amendments from others. In May 2008, she advanced a version with changes she hoped would increase support. In early June, her bill attracted only 48 votes in the Senate, well short of the 60 needed to proceed. The measure died, but in November 2008, Boxer said she was preparing a revised bill. In the new Congress (2009-2010), senators from some states that are heavily dependent on coal-generated electricity wanted to stop any cap-and-trade bill that would put their states at a competitive disadvantage, but during the first weeks of the Obama administration in 2009, Boxer continued to push the legislation.
Boxer did pursue some bipartisan initiatives, working in 2007 with the Bush White House to increase the energy efficiency of federal buildings and sponsoring, with Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a bill to use the Capitol’s power plant as a demonstration site for carbon-capture technologies. She also sought to have the federal government limit perchlorates (from rocket fuels) in drinking water. She continued to oppose offshore oil drilling in the Pacific Ocean as well as in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And she opposed amendments to the 2008 farm bill that would have weakened prohibitions on pesticides and wetland development.
Boxer also co-sponsored, with Republican John Ensign of Nevada, a bill to reduce the tax on corporate profits earned abroad if they were invested in creating American jobs. This was uncharacteristic enough to attract some notice. As Boxer told the Los Angeles Times: “I do not stand here every day and endorse tax breaks.” She and Ensign estimated the 10-year revenue loss as $18 billion. But after Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation pegged the revenue loss at $28 billion, the measure was not included in the president’s February 2009 economic stimulus bill.
Boxer had more success with public works legislation. The water-projects bill she assembled in May 2007 had $1.4 billion for California projects—about the same as California’s proportionate share by population—including improvements to the Folsom Dam, levee construction in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta and auxiliary spillways to prevent flooding in high-risk Sacramento. The water bill passed the Senate 81-12 in September 2007. President George W. Bush vetoed the legislation, but was overridden 79-14 in November.
In 2007 and 2008, Boxer was entrusted with considerable institutional responsibilities when Majority Leader Harry Reid appointed her to temporarily replace the disabled Tim Johnson of South Dakota as chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee. (Johnson suffered a brain hemorrhage in late 2006 but recovered.) In February 2008, she led the committee in admonishing Republican Larry Craig of Idaho for attempting to withdraw his guilty plea following his arrest in a homosexual sex sting in a Minneapolis airport men’s room. He had pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge, a misdemeanor, and later, after the incident was publicized, tried to change the plea. Under Boxer, the panel also admonished New Mexico Republican Pete Domenici for contacting a federal prosecutor who was investigating state Democrats in a corruption case. In June 2008, after public revelations that Democrats Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Kent Conrad of North Dakota had received favorable terms on home mortgages, committee members voted unanimously to require more disclosure of members’ mortgage terms.
During her first three years in the Senate, Boxer’s job ratings were among the Senate’s lowest. But California, with its large metropolitan areas, trended sharply toward the Democrats in the mid-1990s. From about 1997 on, Boxer generally has had positive job ratings, though they are somewhat lower than those of her more centrist colleague Feinstein. In 1998, Boxer was challenged by Republican state Treasurer Matt Fong. Boxer raised $15 million and ran ads attacking Fong for what she called his ambiguous stances on issues like abortion rights. Fong attacked her for what he called the hypocrisy of her support for Clinton, and Boxer guarded herself from reporters to avoid questions about the impeachment case against Clinton. The president’s brother-in-law, Tony Rodham, married Boxer’s daughter. But Fong spoke haltingly and for the most part unconvincingly in the sound bytes that are a staple of California politics and never succeeded in raising much money. Boxer won 53%-43%. She won 61% of the vote in Los Angeles County and 63% in the San Francisco Bay Area, and was not far behind in Southern California and the rest of the state—an impressive performance for a Democrat dismissed a few years before as too left-wing for much of the state.
When she was up for re-election in 2004, Boxer raised impressive amounts of money early, and well-known Republicans declined to make the race against her. Her opponent was Bill Jones, who had been elected secretary of state by narrow margins in 1994 and 1998 and was not well known outside his home base in Fresno County. Boxer spent $16 million to Jones’s $7 million. She won with 58% of the vote to Jones’ 38%. In coastal California from Los Angeles north Boxer won 67%-29%. She ran essentially even in the rest of the state, carrying the South Coast 48%-47% and losing the rest of the state 47%-45%.
In September 2007, Boxer said she would definitely run for re-election in 2010. Two months later, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he had no interest in challenging her, and polls in early 2009 showed him running far behind her if he did. But it doesn't look like Boxer will have a cakewalk to re-election. In early November 2009, Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard, decided to seek the GOP nomination to challenge Boxer. The well-connected former CEO has the potential to be a formidable opponent with deep pockets.
Boxer did not take a major role in the 2008 presidential race. In July 2007, when Feinstein endorsed New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Boxer refused to make an endorsement, telling the San Francisco Chronicle: “No, I won’t, because I have so many dear friends, so many brothers and sisters running. I’ve known them for so long.” Boxer did endorse Clinton after she won the California primary on February 5.