'Kitchen Table' Issues Are Byrne's Focus
Friday, October 21, 2005
Leslie L. Byrne likes to warm up a crowd with a story of a group of Brownies visiting her office in the House of Representatives on a tour of the U.S. Capitol:
As Byrne wrapped up her explanation on the basics of federal government, one 7-year-old raised her hand. "She asked if boys can be in Congress, too!" says Byrne, the first woman elected to Congress from Virginia.
Now the Fairfax County Democrat is running for lieutenant governor, her eighth campaign since 1985, when she won a seat representing the Falls Church area in the House of Delegates.
At 58, she is a familiar face to many Northern Virginians, a leader whose brash, in-your-face style has distanced some politicians and rallied others over two decades.
When she was defeated after one term in Congress, she alienated the Democratic leadership by announcing the next year that she would run in a primary for U.S. Senate. She lost that race.
When Republicans redistricted Byrne out of her state Senate seat in 2001, she accused them during a floor speech of "gender gerrymandering" to force Democratic women from state politics.
Her unabashedly liberal message and outspokenness in a state where gentility among female politicians is the norm give her critics plenty of ammunition.
"One thing we can all agree on is that there is a real choice in this race," said Sen. Bill Bolling, a conservative leader of the state's anti-tax movement and Byrne's Republican opponent in the Nov. 8 election.
But Byrne said she's embracing the idea that to get anything done in politics, one has to find common ground by seeing things the way the other guy does -- "even if you disagree with 99 percent of what they think."
"It's what I try to look for more than I used to," she said.
Byrne said she reached out to conservatives while she was in the General Assembly. She co-sponsored a bill with Republican Randy Forbes, now a congressman, to protect abandoned babies, and she worked with Richard Black (R-Loudoun) on increasing tax benefits for the elderly.
She and Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) worked on a proposal to give local governments more control over development, which was defeated.