Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Rising Leader in Washington: Representative Katherine Clark, Former MWPC Endorsee

Yesterday, a group of Democrats staged a sit-in on the floor of the US House, disrupting proceedings until around 3 a.m., when Speaker Paul Ryan abruptly adjourned the House until July 5th. Over the course of the protest, representatives told personal stories, voiced their frustrations, and demanded that Mr. Ryan and the House’s Republican leadership allow votes on legislation that would expand background checks and prevent suspected terrorists on the “no fly” list from buying guns.
At the center of this protest were Massachusetts’ own Representative Katherine Clark and Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a prominent civil rights leader. Clark approached Lewis and expressed her desire to end Congress’ silence on gun violence; over the weekend, they worked with colleagues to plan the protest. Clark, Lewis, and 17 other Democrats also wrote a letter to Mr. Ryan, urging him to keep the House in session to debate and vote on gun legislation.
This is only Clark’s most recent criticism of Congress’ inaction to prevent gun violence. Last week, she and other Democratic legislators walked out of a moment of silence led by Mr. Ryan in memory of the victims of the Orlando shooting, writing “If the LGBT community has taught us anything, it’s that silence is the enemy of progress. I refuse to take part in a moment of silence by a Congress that takes part in empty gestures rather than do something — anything — that could actually prevent these horrific acts from happening. We can’t reduce gun violence with silence.”
Clark’s actions exemplify the leadership she has shown in Washington, where “she’s quietly ascended the leadership ranks and become a go-to person for national Democrats to help recruit candidates across the country to run for Congress” (Boston Globe). Clark first took office in 2013, when she won in a special election to succeed now-Senator Edward Markey, after previously serving as state senator and state representative and working as general counsel for the Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services and policy chief for the state attorney general.
Since her election, Clark has advocated for “ending wage discrimination, protecting women’s health care, access to affordable, high-quality child care, paid family leave, safer schools, and other reforms to address the challenges women and families face.” Her first official act in Congress was to co-sponsor the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that would add procedural protections to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Fair Labor Standards Act to address the gender pay gap in the United States.
A vocal opponent of online abuse, Clark’s recent Cybercrime Enforcement Training Assistance Act provides federal money for the “prevention, enforcement, and prosecution” of online harassment and threats to local law enforcement that may not have the resources or training to combat these crimes. She also is looking to fill gaps in laws surrounding sextortion, the online use of hacked or coerced intimate photos to extort money or manipulate victims to engage in sexual acts. Because federal law does not explicitly count sextortion as a separate offense, these crimes are often un- or under-prosecuted. In addition, because women receive sexually explicit or threatening messages 27 times more often than men, a rate that is even higher among women of color and LGBTQ women, the CETAA and future legislation on sextortion is key to providing women with an online professional and personal environment that is free of abuse.
After less than two years in the House, Clark was appointed to serve as a Senior Whip by U.S. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. In this position, Clark is among leaders of the Democratic Caucus who keep track of the party’s votes for or against a piece of legislation, are responsible for “whipping up” party support for a particular position on a bill, and meet regularly to talk policy and strategy.
Clark’s rise will likely continue; her bipartisan accomplishments (including two successful bills that address the opioid crisis), strong campaign skills, fundraising infrastructure, the “potency” of her frequent focus on issues that disproportionately impact women and children, and her compelling personality have all contributed to her success. As Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh told the Boston Globe, “When it comes to taking on anybody, she never flinches. Katherine has great instincts, but also has the political savvy and moxie to back it up.”

In being appointed as Senior Whip, in her recent legislation, and in her role on the House floor yesterday, Clark should be recognized and commended for her leadership, tenacity, outspokenness, and moral compass. We look forward to see where she goes from here.

- Abigail, MWPC intern