Congresswoman Lois Capps Speaks at CMC Athenaeum

Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA) from the 24th district of California addressed a crowd at the Claremont McKenna College Atheneum on Wednesday, Oct. 5. During the talk, Capps spoke about political issues, her public service and her life, in addition to sharing her feelings about retiring from Congress at the end of this session.    

Capps discussed her underdog story of entering politics. Her husband, Walter Capps, died nine months into the beginning of his term as representative of the 22nd district of California. With the support of family and friends, Capps won the 1998 special election and took over the position from her deceased husband.  

Before serving in Congress, Capps practiced as a nurse and was active in education in her Santa Barbara community. Her experiences in nursing and teaching spurred her to work on education and health policy as a congress member. During her speech, she recounted the struggle to pass the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") and described the health benefits it has provided.   

CMC history professor Diana Selig attended Capps’ talk along with the students in her history course, Women and Politics in America.

"I was struck by Rep. Capps’ discussion of how her background as a public health nurse has influenced her work in Congress," Selig wrote in an email to TSL. "She described how her experience in healthcare has informed her work, making her an effective advocate on issues related to public health in particular."

In her speech, Capps also emphasized that she cares deeply about environment issues, discussing her environmental work in her district, including holding pipeline companies accountable for the Santa Barbara spill in 2015. Capps has worked to promote clean energy and conserve California's natural places, and she serves on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and multiple environmental subcommittees. 

Capps gave her thoughts on current political news items such as Congress overriding the President to pass the 9/11 bill that allows victims to sue Saudi Arabia, and the extreme polarization in American politics. 

She also spoke about her experience as a female Congress member and the importance of women in government.  Even as she approaches 20 years in Congress, she is not far removed from having to endure the challenges that go along with being a woman in a male-dominated institution.  She hopes that women in government continue to make inroads into politics.

Her talk, which was sponsored by the Rose Institute, clearly became relevant for most audience members when she began discussing the importance of college voters. Her husband, who taught at University of California, Santa Barbara, for many years, won his election by a slim margin, and UCSB student voters may have made the difference, according to Capps. Capps urged audience members to educate themselves on the issues and vote for candidates who would fight for what their constituents believe in.

Capps told the audience she has valued her public service very much but the time has come for her to move on.  She plans to contunue serving others as an engaged community member and does not see the end of her time in Congress as the end of her difference-making capability.

Selig wrote that Capps' unique path to office could inspire students. 

"Rep. Capps urged her listeners not to assume that there is only set of qualifications for elected office, but instead to recognize the many paths that can lead to public service," Selig wrote.