Women in Congress: Senator Tammy Duckworth
Nothing has defined Senator Duckworth more than her service to her country
By Sunwoo Park
The Progressive Teen Staff Writer
BORN IN BANGKOK, THAILAND, TAMMY DUCKWORTH is a descendant of a long line of military veterans. According to genealogical records from Ancestry.com, the Duckworths settled in America around the mid-17th century and have served in every major conflict since. During World War Two, her father, Franklin Duckworth, served as a marine.
Because of Franklin Duckworth’s involvement with the United Nations, the Duckworth family had to move around Southeast Asia. Tammy Duckworth attended Singapore American School and the International School Bangkok, which allowed her to become fluent in Indonesian and Thai. In 1984, her family moved to Hawaii and she graduated from McKinley High School with honors. Afterwards, she attended the University of Hawaii and George Washington University.
After graduating from George Washington, Tammy Duckworth decided to become a helicopter pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard and was deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2004, an Iraqi RPG shot down her UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, inflicting grave injures, which cost her both legs and partial use of one arm. Duckworth was presented a Purple Heart for the injuries she received in combat.
Tammy Duckworth was inspired to pursue public service by former Kansas Senator Bob Dole. She first ran for office in 2006, when she attempted to defeat Illinois State Senator Peter Roskam for Illinois’s 6th Congressional District, but was narrowly defeated by less than 5,000 votes. After her defeat, Duckworth was appointed Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs; she worked vigorously to help address veterans’ needs by establishing the Illinois Warrior Assistance Program, which helps veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder according to Stars and Stripes. In 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Tammy Duckworth for Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs. As assistant secretary, Duckworth directed VA’s public affairs and programs for homeless veterans.
In June of 2011, Duckworth resigned from her position and announced her intention to run for Illinois’s 8th Congressional District. After defeating Deputy Treasurer Raja Krishamoorthi during the Democratic primaries, she found herself challenging incumbent Republican Joe Walsh. During the campaign, Representative Walsh allegedly accused Duckworth of “politicizing her military service and injuries” during an interview with CNN.
“She is a hero, and that demands our respect, but it doesn’t demand our vote. All she does, guys, is talk about her service,” Representative Walsh said.
While Walsh repeatedly emphasized his respect for the brave men and women who served in the military, he claimed, “Veterans don’t talk about their service” and that the reservation of talking about their experience was what made veterans “so noble,” despite contrary evidence which suggested that many veterans were in fact proud to discuss their military background. Although Duckworth defeated Walsh 55%–45%, this would not be the last time her patriotism and service to her country would be called into question.
Representative Tammy Duckworth was sworn into office on January 3rd, 2013, becoming the first disabled woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. During her tenure, she served on the House Committee on Armed Services and Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. During a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Duckworth found herself catapulted onto national spotlight. Braulio Castillo, CEO of Strong Castle, claimed special treatment because he broke his foot at U.S. Military Preparatory School, which he attended for nine months. According to The Atlantic, Castillo owned a “technology business certified as a service-disabled, veteran-owned company eligible for government set aside contracts” and his company received a 500 million dollar government contract based on Castillo’s status as a disabled veteran.
During the hearing, Representative Duckworth chastised Castillo for claiming veterans’ disability and using the system to his own advantage.
“You took advantage of the system…it is because cases like you have poisoned the public’s opinion on these programs. I hope that you think twice about the example that you’re setting for your children. I hope that you think twice about what you were doing to this nation’s veterans who are willing to die to protect this nation,” Representative Duckworth said to Castillo.
Duckworth announced her intention to retake President Obama’s former U.S. Senate Seat from Republican incumbent Mark Kirk. On October 27th, 2016, Duckworth and Kirk faced off on a televised debate. When Duckworth talked about her ancestors’ past serving in the United States military, Kirk commented on how he had “forgotten that [Duckworth’s] parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.” Duckworth coolly responded by stating, “There have been members of my family that have been serving on my father’s side going back to the Revolutionary War…I am proud of both my father’s side and my mother, who became an American citizen in her 50s.” Duckworth would go on defeat Kirk 55%–40%.
During the election, Duckworth campaigned for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally. She also wanted to admit 100,000 Syrian refugees. Due to President Trump’s victory, accomplishing these goals may prove to be very difficult if not outright impossible.
The ideals and principles the senator stands for are in stark contrast to the populist form of nationalism that has overtaken America. Senator Duckworth embodies civic nationalism, which is patriotism that upholds the values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights.