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Freshman Congresswoman Talks Hats And Politics

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Freshman Congresswoman Talks Hats And Politics

Politics

Freshman Congresswoman Talks Hats And Politics

Freshman Congresswoman Talks Hats And Politics

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/132675695/132675681" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The 112th session of the Congress opens today, welcoming 96 new representatives for the first time. Within the freshman class is Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida, who has already drawn attention for her fashion sense. Host Michel Martin speaks with Wilson about expectations for her first term, including her hopes to work both sides of the political isle, and her love for wearing hats.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Once again, we are coming to you today from the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., as we mark the swearing in of the 112th Congress. In a few minutes we will shift our focus to how the look in Washington might change or stay the same with this new Congress. We'll be talking with one of the country's best known writers on style and fashion, Robin Givhan.

One thing we know, we're going to see more hats. Maybe not on either floor of the Congress, but atop of the head of an incoming Democrat, Frederica Wilson. She represents the Miami-Dade area and Broward counties in the House. She has served in both the state House and state Senate in Florida. And she's with us now from the Capitol. Welcome. Happy New Year. Thank you so much for joining us.

Representative FREDERICA WILSON (Democrat, Florida): Thank you, and happy New Year to you.

MARTIN: Now, Congresswoman Wilson, you've already turned a lot of heads on your road to Congress because of your extensive hat collection. In fact, I have to mention, you are wearing a remarkable Stetson. It's got red sequins. I'm not doing justice to it, but you do look fabulous. But we know that you didn't run for office to show off your style. So, for those who didn't follow your campaign, tell us why you wanted to run and what you hope to accomplish while here.

Rep. WILSON: Jobs, jobs, jobs for District 17. I wanted to improve education for the children of our nation, access to a good public education. I'm a past school principal and a past member of the Miami-Dade County School Board. And I think we need to invest in our children and we need to make sure that we offer them more vocational education so that they will be job ready when they graduate from high school.

Everyone is not going to college. So we must make sure that we prepare them for the world of work. And I want to make sure that in Miami-Dade County we have a qualified - a federally-qualified health care facility, which I started in the Florida Senate. I need the rest of the money to go ahead and build that particular facility.

And I also want to work on the issues of Haiti. In my district I have the largest constituency base of Haitian-Americans in Miami-Dade County, Florida. And we're having perilous and difficult times in Haiti. There's a cholera epidemic. They suffered a tremendous earthquake. People are homeless. I want to find out what happened to the millions - even billions of dollars that were raised for the Haitian people.

MARTIN: Now, as we mentioned, Congresswoman Wilson, just before you came to the Capitol, you remember the Florida State Senate, which was led by Republicans. So, unlike some of your colleagues here in the Congress, you have the experience of being a minority - being part of the minority party. And I'd like to ask, you know, here you are in the same situation again. In fact, you're the smallest freshman class of either party since at least 1915. There are only nine Democratic freshmen.

So, I'd like to ask you, how do you plan to accomplish these goals, given that the politics have changed very greatly since just a short time ago?

Rep. WILSON: I've already started reaching across party lines. I'm good at it. I was good at it in the Florida Senate and the Florida House. I've always served in the minority. And I was able to convince people that there is suffering in both parties. And if you understand and know that people are not defined in society by parties, they're defined by experiences. And so I take my life experience to Congress and to my fellow congressional members and reach across the aisle and help them know and understand that what I stand for they should stand for.

And it's for power to the people, making sure that the people that we represent are not suffering, that they benefit from the taxes that they are paying, and that our children benefit from the investment that we're making in America today.

MARTIN: I'd like to ask you the same question I asked your colleague, Allen West, Republican of Florida, earlier in the program. There's a question of civility between the parties right now, as we mentioned that there's Gallup poll information showing that - it was just taken in December - saying that the American people have some of the lowest approval ratings of Congress that they've had in quite some time.

And some people feel that this is due to what they feel is an uncivil atmosphere where there's more interest in partisanship than in really working across the aisle. So I'd like to ask, what are you personally planning to do to ensure that there is a level civility up here?

Rep. WILSON: I think we should all take an oath that we will be civil. I don't think the American people appreciate bickering. They don't want to see stalemates. They want us to come and to work on behalf of the people, on behalf of their needs. And I personally - Allen West is a neighbor of mine in Florida, and we represent some of the same people in South Florida. And I am friends with everyone from Florida. Everyone who is serving in the House or - now, I've served with at some point in my career in the Florida legislature, Republicans. So I've always been friends with Marco Rubio, David Rivera, all of House members. So we're seeing this civility.

(Soundbite of buzzer)

Rep. WILSON: I've always bee on the opposite side. We have different philosophies, but we have the same purpose.

MARTIN: I just want to mention that those - that we are on Capitol Hill, and those bells are signaling that it is time to head to the floor, where you will be officially sworn in. So we do have one more question for you before we let you go.

Rep. WILSON: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Well, two more questions. One is this whole question of - one of the -House Republicans say that one of the first acts will be to try to repeal health care reform. And your colleague, Allen West, says he fully supports that idea. What are you going to try to say to persuade him?

Rep. WILSON: Oh, we can't do that. We came here to create jobs. And if you're talking about a job creator, it's the health care reform. It will create thousands of jobs for people across the nation. So we've got to fight real hard. And already, there are so many things that are in place that are benefiting our seniors, benefiting our families, our children, and we cannot repeal those. The American people will not allow us to repeal health care.

MARTIN: And finally, before we let you go, we mentioned early on that you are known for your attention-grabbing hats - well-deserved attention - but the rules forbid anybody from wearing hats on the House floor. This has been the -for a century. You're disappointed at this rule, I know. Is that going to be your first act of persuasion, to try to get them to reverse this rule? Or what else are you going to do to keep being you while you're here?

Rep. WILSON: I think I'm me. I'm a fighter. I'm a children's advocate. So I'll be me with the hat or without the hat. So I'm fine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Congresswoman Frederica Wilson represents Florida's 17th District in Southeast Florida. She was kind enough to join us here on Capitol Hill on this opening day of the 112th Congress.

To see pictures of the red-sequined hat I described, a fabulous hat on incoming Congressman Wilson, please go to our website, npr.org. Click on the Programs page, then go to TELL ME MORE.

Congratulations to you. Thank you so much for joining us, and Happy New Year to you.

Rep. WILSON: Thanks. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Thank you.

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