In this month’s Representing La Gente, I’ll be profiling Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). She currently serves as the representative of Florida’s 18th congressional district, an area that encompasses a sizeable portion of South Florida, including South Beach, the Florida Keys, and most of Miami-Dade county.
Ros-Lehtinen was born on July 15th, 1959 in Havana, Cuba to Enrique Ros and Amanda Adato. Her family escaped from Cuba in 1960, a year after the rise of Fidel Castro. Her parents, like many refugees, were involved in plotting the downfall of the Castro regime, but the failure of the Bay of Pigs mission made a return to Cuba seem more and more unlikely. Ros-Lehtinen grew up in Southern Florida, earning Bachelors and Masters degree at Florida International University. She obtained her doctorate in educational administration from the University of Miami.
Before becoming involved in politics, she was a teacher and administrator at Eastern Academy, a school that she founded. Her first stint as a politician came in the Florida State Legislature first as a state representative and later as a state senator. It was here that Ros-Lehtinen learned the ropes of the political system, often being cited for thinking on a broader scale than just the constituents that she represented.
She vacated her state senate seat in order to run for a chair in the House of Representatives. This political campaign was important because it was the first time two Latina women were considered to be opposing candidates for the same position. Her victory marked the first time a Cuban American and a Latina were elected to serve in Congress. Throughout her tenure in Congress, she has mentored and has had many interns, but none perhaps, as notable as current Florida Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).
She is considered to be a hard-line conservative, voting for action in the Iraq War and remains a supporter of a more permanent version of the Patriot Act. Ros-Lehtinen also voted for the Bush Era tax cuts. The one way that she different from other members of her party is that she is a supporter of LGBT issues, being the only Republican that serves in the LGBT Equality caucus. She has voted numerous times for anti-discrimination and hate crime laws, and is one of only 15 Republicans that voted for the repeal of the infamous “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.
Her policies as a whole seem to be focused more nationally than on her constituents, often voting and promoting measures that affect the country as a whole. Interestingly enough, it is rumored that Ros-Lehtinen is connected to the Scientology faith, once being cited as one of the church’s best friends in Congress. She is also known for hanging up on President Barack Obama, who had called to congratulate her on her reelection in 2008. Ros-Lehtinen believed that it was a prank by a local radio station, and also hung up on Rahm Emmanuel who called to explain what happened.