Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R)
Elected: Aug. 1989, 10th full term.
Born: July 15, 1952, Havana, Cuba .
Education: Miami-Dade Comm. Col., A.A. 1972, FL Intl. U., B.A. 1975, M.S. 1986, U. of Miami, Ed.D.. 2004.
Family: Married (Dexter); 4 children.
Elected office: FL House of Reps., 1982–86; FL Senate, 1986–89.
Professional Career: Teacher, principal & owner, Eastern Academy Elem. Schl., 1978–85.
The congresswoman from the 18th District is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Cuban-American and the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress. She was born in Havana, came to Miami at the age of 8 not knowing English and graduated from Miami Dade Community College and Florida International University. She became a teacher, then was the owner of a private school. In 2004, she got her doctorate in education from the University of Miami. Her dissertation was on the views of House members regarding national testing for high school students. She was elected to the Florida House in 1982, at age 30, and to the state Senate in 1986. While there, she met her husband, Dexter Lehtinen, who also served in both houses of the Legislature and as U.S. attorney in Miami during the first Bush administration. In 1989, Ros-Lehtinen ran for the U.S. House in the special election after the death of Democrat Claude Pepper, one of the most enduring liberals in American politics and a staunch opponent of Castro. At that time, there were no Republicans and no Cuban-Americans representing Miami or Dade County. Democratic nominee Gerald Richman played on suspicions of Cubans and won the votes of 96% of blacks and 88% of non-Hispanic whites. Ninety percent of Hispanics, almost all of them Cuban, voted for Ros-Lehtinen. That was enough to give her a 53%-47% victory. In the years afterward, the district became more Hispanic, and she had no serious challenges until 2008. That year, the increasing number of non-Cuban Hispanics and the generational changes in attitude among Cuban-Americans provided the basis for a serious Democratic challenge.
|Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R)||140,617||(58%)||($2,838,976)|
|Annette Taddeo (D)||102,372||(42%)||($1,177,003)|
|Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (62%), 2004 (65%), 2002 (69%), 2000 (100%), 1998 (100%), 1996 (100%), 1994 (100%), 1992 (67%), 1990 (60%), 1989 (53%)
Ros-Lehtinen has a mixed voting record: moderate on cultural policy and more conservative on economic and foreign issues. When Republicans took over the House in 1995, she refused to sign the Contract with America and was a harsh critic of Republican attempts to pass English-only legislation, to cut off welfare benefits for legal immigrants—she voted against the 1996 welfare bills—and to reduce the immigration quota for relatives of U.S. citizens. In February 2007, she protested the Bush administration’s increase in the permanent-resident fee from $325 to $905, and in the 2007 debate over immigration, she pleaded with Republicans not to alienate the growing Hispanic voting bloc. She has been the chief sponsor of a bill to bar the transport of minors across state lines for abortions. The House passed it, but it died in the Senate. But she opposed the military’s ban on openly gay troops and in 2008, she opposed the Florida constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
In 2007, she became the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She strongly backed the 1996 Helms-Burton law that tightened sanctions against Castro, and she has opposed farm-state Republicans who have sought to relax the trade embargo on Cuba in effect since 1961. In February 2008, after Castro stepped down as head of state, she called for his indictment for shooting down two Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996.
Ros-Lehtinen has been a booster of Israel, winning enactment of bills to impose additional economic sanctions on Libya and Iran. In September 2007, after Israel bombed an apparent nuclear installation in Syria, reportedly constructed with help from North Korea, Ros-Lehtinen criticized the Bush administration for its “veil of secrecy” on intelligence about the raid and its willingness to reach agreements with North Korea in light of the Syrian installation. In October, she held a tense meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the subject, and threatened that Congress would not appropriate money for fuel-oil shipments to North Korea if the administration refused to disclose “critical information.” Ros-Lehtinen also supported the Israeli shelling of the Gaza strip in December 2008.
Ros-Lehtinen and the committee’s Democratic chairman, Howard Berman of California, led the House in 2008 in approving a nuclear agreement with India, but with international oversight of civilian nuclear reactors. Ros-Lehtinen has been a steady supporter of the Iraq War.
As the 2008 election approached, national Democrats thought Ros-Lehtinen and the two other Miami-area Cuban-American Republicans, brothers Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, might be vulnerable. Polls showed that President Bush was unpopular in Miami-Dade County. Younger Cuban-Americans seemed less obdurately opposed to the Castro regime than their elders and more supportive of easing travel restrictions and money transfer to Cuba. Non-Cuban Hispanics leaned Democratic, and Miami Beach and bayfront liberals were hostile to the Iraq war. Democrat Annette Taddeo, owner of the LanguageSpeak translation service, launched a challenge and financed it with $400,000 of her own money. Taddeo, who was born in Colombia to a Colombian mother, favored the embargo but wanted to ease travel restrictions and money transfers. By June 2008, Ros-Lehtinen was issuing press releases detailing her disagreements with the Bush administration. In the early fall, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poured $1.4 million into television ads, and former presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi campaigned for Taddeo. In their one joint appearance Taddeo criticized Ros-Lehtinen for voting for the $700 billion bailout of the financial markets, but the incumbent noted that the bill had $100 million in tax breaks helpful to the district. Ros-Lehtinen spent $2.8 million, about the same as Taddeo’s $1.1 million plus the money spent by the DCCC and other anti-Republican groups.
Ros-Lehtinen won 58%-42%, even though the district voted 51%-49% for Barack Obama. (The other two districts represented by Cuban-Americans voted 51%-49% and 50%-49% for John McCain.) “This could have been the perfect storm,” she told the Miami Herald. “It had all the makings of me going down. If I can make it in this election, I can make it in any election.” Obama even called with congratulations, but Ros-Lehtinen, thinking that one of the local radio stations was pulling a prank, hung up on him. She said, “I thought, ‘Why would Obama want to call a little slug on the planet like me?’” When White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel called to explain, she hung up on him too. Then Berman called and persuaded her that the calls were genuine. When she finally took his call, Obama laughed and said he didn’t blame her for being skeptical.