Thrust onto the public stage because of her opposition to a controversial Los Angeles busing program, Bobbi Fiedler managed to convert her local celebrity into a political career. The former housewife and businesswoman who described herself as a “fiscal conservative and a social liberal” managed to unseat a prominent incumbent to earn a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.2 Fiedler’s congressional career ended following an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate.
Roberta “Bobbi” Frances Horowitz was born to Jack and Sylvia Levin Horowitz in Santa Monica, California, on April 22, 1937. After graduating from Santa Monica High School in 1955, she attended Santa Monica Technical School and Santa Monica City College through 1959. During the 1960s, she and her husband owned and operated two pharmacies in the San Fernando section of Los Angeles and had two children, Randy and Lisa.2 The Fiedlers later divorced.
Bobbi Fiedler first entered the public spotlight when she became a vocal critic of a divisive Los Angeles busing program of the 1970s. Aimed at promoting racial integration in Southern California public schools, the mandatory busing system attracted the ire of parents throughout the district because of its tendency to force children to travel long distances to and from school. As a parent volunteer in a local elementary school, Fiedler led the charge of disgruntled parents by organizing an anti–busing group called BUSTOP. Fiedler’s notoriety from her work with the protest organization helped launch her political career. In 1977, she won election to the influential Los Angeles city board of education which oversaw an urban school district encompassing more than 3 million people.3 The high–profile leadership position spurred Fiedler’s ascent on both the state and national scene. From 1977 through 1987, Fiedler served as a delegate to the California State Republican conventions, and she also was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1980 and 1984. During the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas, Fiedler delivered a speech seconding President Ronald Reagan’s nomination for re–election.4
Brimming with confidence from her newfound role as a leading public figure in the Los Angeles area, Fiedler decided to run for a seat in the 97th Congress (1981–1983) that represented portions of suburban Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley, including the towns of Woodland Hills, Northridge, and Granada Hills. It was a district dominated by white–collar, middle–class families. She faced little opposition in the Republican primary, earning 74 percent of the vote against Patrick O’Brien. Despite her easy victory in the primary, Fiedler had the daunting task of running against 10–term incumbent Representative James Corman in the general election. Not intimidated by her opponent’s influential position in Congress, Fiedler pronounced, “He’s so out of touch he doesn’t know what people in the district think.”5 Few people believed Corman, chair of the Democratic Congressional Committee and high–ranking member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, could be unseated by an inexperienced candidate. With a straightforward campaign strategy focusing on opposition to the Los Angeles busing system—a tactic that paralleled Congresswoman Louise Hicks’ (of Massachusetts) path to the House a decade earlier–Fiedler stunned experts with one of the biggest upsets of the political season, defeating Corman on November 4, 1980, by 752 votes.6 Fielder also was aided by Ronald W. Reagan’s landslide defeat of incumbent President James Earl “Jimmy” Carter in the 1980 presidential election; Carter’s early concession speech, given three hours before the polls closed in California, may have tilted the closely contested race in Fiedler’s favor by discouraging voter turnout among Democrats.7
In Congress, Fiedler was rewarded handsomely for her unlikely victory, winning appointment to the Budget Committee, where she served for all three of her terms and was on the Joint Economic Committee during the 99th Congress (1985–1987). She also was the senior Republican member of task forces on defense and international affairs as well as health. As a Congresswoman, Fiedler typically backed the Reagan administration and her Republican colleagues on fiscal matters, most especially in her position as a member of the Budget Committee. Nonetheless, she strayed from the party line with respect to her views towards women’s rights. Admittedly not a feminist before becoming a politician, Fiedler commented that soon after taking office she felt a “special obligation” to represent the concerns of women. She went on to remark, “I began to realize that most men have very little real knowledge of the problems women face. They don’t understand the special responsibility of working full time and getting up at one or two in the morning with a sick child.”8 During her tenure in Congress, Fiedler promoted a range of issues concerning women, such as Individual Retirement Account allotments for homemakers, child support and enforcement, and welfare reform, as well as supporting the Equal Rights Amendment. However, some feminists criticized her for not assuming a more public role in advocating the equal rights of women.9
As a result of 1982 reapportionment, Fielder’s district became a Republican stronghold in California. Re–elected to both the 98th and 99th Congresses (1983–1987) with more than 70 percent of the vote, Fiedler nonetheless opted to leave her safe seat to challenge the longtime Democratic California Senator Alan Cranston in 1986.10 Although Cranston had easily defeated his conservative Republican opponents in his previous two re–election bids, Fiedler entered the race in part because of her belief that her more moderate views would appeal to voters. Moreover, Cranston, a man she termed an “ultra–liberal” and the “last of the old–time big spenders,” was viewed by some Republicans as vulnerable coming off his unsuccessful run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984.11 During the Republican primary, Fielder’s candidacy fell apart when a grand jury indicted her and an aide for attempting to pay an opponent to withdraw from the race. Fiedler called the allegation “a political dirty trick” and maintained her innocence.12 The indictment soon was dropped, but the political fallout was costly. Fielder lost the primary, garnering just 15 percent of the vote.
Following the end of her third term in Congress, she returned to Northridge, California, where she married Paul Clarke, her former chief of staff, on February 15, 1987. Fiedler expressed interest in succeeding outgoing U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole in the fall of 1987, but the Reagan administration did not nominate her for the Cabinet position.13 Fiedler later worked as a lobbyist and political commentator.14
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
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