Monday, March 19, 2012

Paula Fickes Hawkins

Paula Hawkins entered politics gradually. When her family moved to Florida, she worked as a community activist with the local republican party. She did campaign work for house and presidential candidates, and then sought office herself, serving for 7 years on the state public service commission. She sought a senate seat in 1974, then ran for Lieutenant Governor in 1978, but lost both races.

She ran as the republican candidate for a US senate in Florida in 1980. She did not get any help from feminist organizations like NOW – they picketed her for her stances opposing the ERA and abortion. She didn't have any political family ties, like all women previously elected to full terms in the senate. She did benefit from being a part of the Reagan landslide, but still, constituents loved her aggressive style, and she defeated the incumbent. She is the first and only female senator elected for a full term in the state of Florida.

She only served a single term, but she made impressive accomplishments in the area of child welfare while she was there. Her work strongly contributed to the passage of the Missing Children's Act of 1982, which established a national center for information about missing children, removed the prior 48 hour waiting period before federal officials could become involved in a missing child case, and gave parents access to more information about the search. The program has been credited with locating thousands of children.

She also showed personal courage while in office. At a National Conference on Sexual Victimization of Children, she revealed that she had been molested as a child. She felt her revelation would encourage other victims to seek the justice and help that they needed.

I love that Hawkins ran her political career on her own terms. She didn't cave to feminists who wanted her to support more liberal positions, or to chauvinistic reporters who asked her who was going to do her husband's laundry while she served in the Senate. She did the work she wanted to do, in the way she wanted to do it. And she did it with courage and empathy.

Paula Hawkins, 82, Florida Ex-Senator, Dies”, by David Stout. New York Times, 4 December 2009. 
"Paula Fickes Hawkins.” Women in Congress.

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