Kathy Gille worked in the office of Representative David Bonior of Michigan for more than 20 years. Her responsibilities included speechwriting, foreign policy research, and working on the House Rules Committee and the Democratic task force on Central America. She was eventually promoted to executive floor assistant and senior advisor for policy and communications, becoming one of the first women to supervise a Whip operation in the House.
In 1981, Kathy Gille arrived in Washington, D.C., as a legislative aide in the office of Congressman David Bonior of Michigan. As a speechwriter, researcher and policy and communications advisor, she rapidly became an integral part of his congressional staff. In this interview, she recalls her political awakening in the Detroit student movement of the late 1960s and her wide-ranging work in Congress as one of the first women to supervise a Whip operation in the House.
Drawing from more than two decades of experience, Gille describes the working life of women staff in Congress. She discusses her foreign policy work for Congressman Bonior on the House Democratic Task Force on Central America, which worked to end the wars in Central America during the 1980s. Gille also reflects on the pivotal victory of the House Republicans in the 1994 election, as well as the Democratic transition to the minority in the House. She explains the workings of the Democratic Whip’s office under Congressman Bonior from 1991 to 2002, including her day-to-day activities on the House Floor, the mechanics of “whipping a bill,” and the role of the Whip in key votes, such as the 1993 vote to implement the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Kathy Gille was born in 1951, and raised in suburban Detroit. She attended an all-girls’ high school, where she was part of the Detroit student movement. She participated in Detroit city politics and organized local talks about issues from civil rights to the war in Vietnam. Her Catholic faith provided another inspiration for her activism, and she was drawn to the Catholic Worker Movement because of its emphasis on social and economic reform to combat poverty.
Gille’s interest in politics led her to study political science at the University of Chicago, where she also attended graduate school. In 1981, she began working for Congressman Bonior, conducting research on foreign and domestic policy issues, working on the House Rules Committee, and writing speeches. She also played an important role as a staff member on the House Democratic Task Force on Central America, which focused on exposing human rights abuses in the region and called for the U.S. government to cut off military aid to the Contras in Nicaragua.
Gille became executive floor assistant in 1987, when Congressman Bonior was elected Deputy Whip. She developed a skillful approach to tallying votes, and her role increased in significance when Bonior became Majority Whip in 1991. From her office in the Capitol, she often passed the statue of Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin on her way to the House Chamber. Gille was on the front lines organizing the Democratic Whip operation for significant votes in 1993 such as the budget bill and the vote to implement the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). She continued to work on the House Floor after Bonior transitioned to Minority Whip in 1995. In addition to her floor duties, she served as a senior advisor for policy and communications until she left Capitol Hill in 2002.