Heather A. Wilson
(born December 30 1960
), is a Republican
member of the United States House of Representatives
representing from 1998 to 2008. She is the second female veteran to be elected to Congress. Much of Wilson's legislative focus has been on national security
issues. She opted not to run for re-election in 2008 and sought the U.S. Senate seat of retiring senator Pete Domenici
but finished second in the Republican primary to Congressman Steve Pearce
Early life and career
Born in Keene, New Hampshire
, Wilson joined the United States Air Force
at the age of seventeen, graduating four years later as a Distinguished Graduate (magna cum laude
equivalent) from the U.S. Air Force Academy
in 1982. A Rhodes Scholar
, she continued her education at Jesus College
, Oxford University
, earning a D.Phil.
. in International Relations
Upon leaving the Air Force in 1989, Wilson became Director for European Defense Policy and Arms Control on the National Security Council. After leaving government, she founded Keystone International, Inc. in 1991 to promote business development in the United States and Russia. She was the Secretary of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Family Department under Governor Gary Johnson.
Wilson is the first woman to represent New Mexico since Georgia Lusk in the 1940s, and is the second female veteran to be elected to Congress, the first being the Louisianan Democrat Catherine S. Long in 1985.. In the House, she serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence.
From 1999 to 2000 she won several awards including the "Hero of the Taxpayer Award"(1999).
As of September 2007, Wilson is a member of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a coalition of centrist Republican leaders. Wilson has appeared on HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher.
Since 2001, Congresswoman Wilson has been a member of the House Page Board, and is currently a member of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's caucus.
House of Representatives
Nine-year Republican incumbent Steve Schiff
died of melanoma
in March 1998. Wilson won the Republican primary with 62 percent of the vote. She then defeated her Democratic
opponent, State Senator
Phil Maloof, by five points. She won the seat in her own right eight months later, defeating Maloof in another close race.
Wilson was considered vulnerable by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
during the 2000 election. Although the 1st has been in Republican hands ever since its creation in 1969, it has become increasingly friendly to Democrats at the national level; it has supported a Democrat in every presidential election since 1992.
Nonetheless, Wilson managed to defeat her Democratic opponent, former U.S. Attorney John J. Kelly, by seven points. Democrats felt the presence of a Green candidate siphoned off votes that would have otherwise gone to Kelly.
Wilson had a somewhat easier time in 2002, defeating State Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero
by 10 points despite Bill Richardson
's landslide victory in the race for governor
In 2004, Wilson faced Romero again. The Republican National Committee
provided a great deal of Wilson's campaign funds because of her perceived strong credentials on national security.
Wilson was the number-four recipient of money from then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's ARMPAC campaign contributions. ARMPAC was subsequently dismantled due to its fraudulent distribution of funds. Wilson returned $10,000 of the $46,959 she received from ARMPAC, though Democrats called on her to return all of the money.
During Wilson's reelection campaign in 2004, Romero ran advertisements that made the suggestion that her votes in Congress aided Osama bin Laden because she had voted against a bill to require the screening of cargo holds. Wilson's campaign countered with a policy ad stating "Richard Romero opposes death penalty for child molesters who kill their victims."
Following a debate with Romero, former New Mexico Republican Governor David Cargo said that despite her moderate image, Wilson was "essentially a fairly conservative Republican." That year, the Albuquerque Tribune also wrote, "In reality, Wilson's six-year record of voting in Congress reveals a loyal, dependable vote for the official Republican Party position on the overwhelming majority of issues. Much more so than either of the Republican congressmen who represented Albuquerque before her. During the last three years of [Steve] Schiff's tenure in Congress (1995–1997), he voted the Republican Party line 78 percent of the time. During the last three years of [Manny] Lujan's service (1986–1988), he voted with the House Republican leadership 65 percent of the time."
Wilson won the election by eight points.
In the 2006 elections, Heather Wilson faced an election day challenge from New Mexico Attorney General Patricia A. Madrid
. The race was Wilson's toughest challenge since taking office. Since early September 2006, Wilson had been behind in all polls. For example, a poll taken from October 24-29 by Reuters/Zogby showed Madrid leading Wilson 53-44. Nevertheless, the election day results were far more favorable to Wilson. According to the Albuquerque Journal
on Thursday, November 9, 2006, Wilson possessed a 1,300-plus-vote lead with 99% of the votes counted. Nevertheless, the final results and a formal certification of a winner needed to be delayed until additional hand-tallying of paper ballots and provisional ballots were completed. (Historically many provisional ballots are thrown out because of lack of signatures or many are not registered voters, according to County Clerk Mary Herrera.) Later that same day (November 9th), Wilson declared victory in the congressional race, although Madrid refused to concede. Finally, on Tuesday, November 21, 2006, two weeks after the election, Madrid conceded to Heather Wilson. Wilson won the election by 875 (out of 211,000) votes, or 0.4%
Political actions and positions
Super Bowl halftime show controversy
In 2004, Wilson denounced CBS
at a House FCC Hearing
following Janet Jackson
's halftime performance at Super Bowl XXXVIII
in which Jackson revealed her nipple
. She said to the president of Viacom, "You knew what you were doing. You knew what kind of entertainment you're selling, and you wanted us all to be abuzz, here in this room and on the playground in my kids' school, because it improves your ratings. It improves your market share, and it lines your pockets." Gail Shister, television columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer
, characterized the reaction as "a tempest in a teacup" and "a great election year issue". Frank Rich
, columnist for the New York Times
, called it "congressional grandstanding".
NSA warrantless domestic surveillance
On February 7, 2006, Heather Wilson called for a full congressional inquiry into the NSA warrantless surveillance
. Eric Lichtblau
of The New York Times
said that "the congresswoman's discomfort with the operation appears to reflect deepening fissures among Republicans over the program's legal basis and political liabilities
Federal government negotiating with drug companies
In 2003, Wilson voted against allowing the Secretary of Health and Human Services
to negotiate lower drug prices with pharmaceutical
companies. The Secretary would have the authority to use the purchasing power of the federal government to negotiate contracts with manufacturers in order to ensure that enrollees in the new Medicare prescription drug benefit paid the lowest possible price. Drug manufacturers lobbied heavily against drug re-importation and price negotiations in part because of the lower consumer costs it would bring.
Wilson has voted in favor of legislation to make the EPA
a cabinet department, to expedite forest thinning projects, and to deauthorize critical habitat designated by the Endangered Species Act
. The League of Conservation Voters
recently named her to its “Dirty Dozen” list of environmentally irresponsible federal officeholders, citing her support for uranium
industry practices that contaminate groundwater
, for policies that would allow “unlimited mining waste dumping on public lands,” and for reduced accountablility for mining companies implicated in pollution. Wilson has also been criticized by New Mexico farmers for what they see as her anti-environment stance: she voted against a $58 million dollar fund for voluntary conservation measures in the state. The League of Conservation Voters gave Wilson an “abysmal” rating on its 2003 National Scorecard, rebuking her for taking more than $100,000 in campaign contributions
from the Energy Lobby
Wilson often describes herself as an "independent". According to the Congressional Quarterly
, from 2001 to 2003, Wilson voted in agreement with the Republican Party at least 90 percent of the time. This dropped to roughly 80 percent in 2004 and 2005. From 2001 to 2004, she voted in support of president George W. Bush
nearly 90 percent of the time, falling to 70 percent in 2005. The Albuquerque Journal
reported several instances in 2004 when Wilson acted in opposition to Republican interests: requiring the Bush administration to release cost figures for his prescription drug plan
, lecturing the Republican Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld
, about the importance of the Geneva Conventions
during an Abu Ghraib
hearing and opposing a move by House Republicans to protect Tom Delay
from his fundraising scandal
. Critics said these were calculated moves to moderate her image for her upcoming election. Later, she lost her seat on the House Armed Services Committee
due to the actions of Republican Joe Barton
, an ally of Delay.
United States Senate campaign, 2008
On October 5
, Wilson announced she would run for the U.S. Senate to replace retiring senator Pete Domenici
in 2008. In November she raised $110,000 at a Washington fundraiser with Vice President Dick Cheney
. In March 2008, Wilson's Senate opponent Congressman Steve Pearce
received 54.51 % of the delegate vote in a pre-primary nominating convention. Wilson was defeated by Pearce in the June 3
primary by a margin of 51% to 49%.
Fired U.S. attorneys
Wilson's competitive 2006 campaign for reelection to the House was allegedly a significant part of the controversial firing of a number of United States Attorneys
in that year. New Mexico U.S. attorney David Iglesias
was in the midst of investigating two prominent state-level Democrats who were suspected of extortion. Republicans in the state hoped a successful prosecution of the Democrats would work to their political advantage. In addition to Iglesias' federal suit, the scandal involved state-level trials; these were being prosecuted by then-Attorney General Patricia Madrid
, Wilson's opponent in her reelection campaign.
Both Wilson and United States Senator Pete Domenici, a political ally, contacted Iglesias during the campaign. Iglesias' investigation was not due to conclude until after the election, and some allege that Wilson's and Domenici's calls were intended to pressure him into accelerating the investigation.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) issued subpoenas to require Iglesias, among other recently ousted U.S. attorneys, to testify before Congress about their firings. Iglesias testified that Wilson asked him whether the Senator would be indicted prior to the November election — information he was not permitted to divulge. He said Wilson was curt after Iglesias was non-responsive to her questions. Iglesias was fired one week afterward by the Bush Administration.
In a March 2007 statement, Wilson admitted to calling Iglesias, but stated "My call was not about any particular case or person, nor was it motivated by politics or partisanship.
Former governor David Cargo (R-NM) accused Wilson of "essentially taking the Fifth [Amendment]" defense thus far. Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, a Democrat, called Wilson’s actions “reprehensible," and predicted that "Heather Wilson will no longer be elected in New Mexico.”
In January 2008, The Hill reported that both congressional and Justice Department investigations into the incident were on-going with results expected before Wilson's November 2008 Senate election. Wilson subsequently lost in her primary campaign. In April 2008 a spokesperson for the House Ethics Committee said that he could neither comment on or verify the existence of an investigation of Wilson: "I haven't been informed of one."
Department of Children, Youth and Families file
In 1996, while working as the Secretary of the State of New Mexico's Department of Children, Youth and Families
, Wilson moved a confidential file whose contents involved her husband from the Department's central location. When a local news station reported this, Wilson stated that she didn't "remove" the file. In a 1998 campaign ad, Wilson's Democratic opponent charged that Wilson lied with that statement and that her act was an abuse of power, allegations she vehemently denied. Wilson's spokesman said her intent was to safeguard, not remove, its contents from illegal access.