Rep.-elect Suzanne Bonamici's last name translates to "good friends" in Italian. The newest member of the Democratic Caucus hopes her state legislative experience proves that Democrats and Republicans can not only be friends, but can actually accomplish things.
Getting work done is a top goal for Bonamici, who brings a lawyerly precision to legislating. She said being "effective and responsive" are her top goals for her first House term.
Bonamici, who will be sworn in Tuesday, won Oregon's 1st district special election Jan. 31. She bested sports marketing company owner Rob Cornilles by
14 points and won every county in the district. Now the sole female Member in the Oregon delegation, she is expected to be a liberal voice on consumer protection issues, energy and education policies.
Joining the GOP-controlled House, Bonamici has applicable mediation experience: In 2011, she was part of a joint legislative committee that successfully produced new redistricting maps for the state's legislative and Congressional districts — a surprising feat, considering the legal battles and furor many state mapping commissions face.
"Was everyone 100 percent happy? Of course not," she said Wednesday, following her win. "But the strong bipartisan support that was shown in both chambers was a sign that people can actually work together across chambers and across the aisle and get things done."
Bonamici was born in Michigan and moved to Oregon, where she put herself through community college and then received undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Oregon.
In her first job after law school, she worked as a consumer protection lawyer at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s. During that time, she met her husband, Michael Simon, who is now a federal judge. They moved back to Oregon in 1986, and Bonamici entered into private law practice.
She took time to raise her two children and then served as an aide in the Oregon Legislature.
In her first bid for public office, she served in the Oregon House for a year; she was appointed to the state Senate in 2008. She held that post until November, when she resigned to seek the 1st district seat left vacant by the resignation of former Rep. David Wu (D).
Bonamici said education is a passion. She hopes to have a seat on the Education and Workforce Committee, though there are currently no vacancies on the panel.
She said she was encouraged by President Barack Obama's focus on education during his State of the Union address; she wants to see more funding for schools.
"I am very excited about the focus and emphasis on public education, which I believe is a key part in revitalizing our economy and the quality of life in our communities," she said in an interview. "My interests range from pre-K and the importance of early childhood education through higher education."
In particular, being a community college graduate, Bonamici said she wants to work on strengthening community college job-training programs and ties to local businesses.
With her experience on consumer protection issues, Bonamici said one of the first bills that she will introduce would increase the cap on credit union member business lending. "I see this proposal as an excellent way to get capital to small businesses," she said.
Bonamici is socially liberal and received support from EMILY's List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights, during her campaign. She was raised as a Christian but now attends synagogue with her family.
Bonamici said committee posts such as Financial Services or Small Business would also be ideal for her, given her district's makeup.
Oregon's 1st district has the highest median income in the state, according to the Census Bureau, and is home to Nike's headquarters in Beaverton. Bonamici's Democrat-leaning constituents are tech-savvy and educated, though beyond the Portland metro area, agriculture, logging and fishing are historically notable industries. The area trends Democratic, and voted 61 percent for Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
The lines changed little after redistricting, and the 1st is not expected to be much more friendly to the GOP in November.
Wu resigned in August after reports of alleged sexual misconduct with a young woman and acknowledged mental health problems.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee funneled $1.3 million into the special election; the National Republican Congressional Committee gave $85,000 to Cornilles for a coordinated ad campaign.
Bonamici sustained attacks about past connections to Wu. She donated to his campaign in 2010, and her husband was an attorney for the former Congressman. Simon resigned from that role in April.
The special election, with mail-in voting only, had a 50 percent voter turnout.
As Bonamici transitions to Washington, she already has one established Congressional connection: Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, dean of the Oregon delegation. Her son, Andrew, interned in his office, and the Senator backed her husband's judicial posting.
"I congratulate Suzanne on a convincing, well-earned victory," Wyden said in a statement Tuesday. "Andrew, her son, was a terrific intern in my office; Michael, her husband, was an excellent choice of mine to the federal bench; and Suzanne will complete the family trifecta by being a truly outstanding partner in representing Oregonians in Congress."
On returning to the city where she spent her post-college years, Bonamici simply said she is "very excited."