Moderate Illinois Republican Judy Biggert dedicated her career to advocating for education reform and child care programs. With a reputation for crossing the aisle for issues she believed in, Biggert earned the respect of her congressional colleagues. Reflecting on her style, Biggert noted, “What I will do is change their minds . . . If I can’t change them, then I will have to work with them.”1
Judith Borg was born in Chicago, Illinois, on August 15, 1937, the daughter of Alvin Andrew Borg and Marjorie Virginia (Mailler) Borg. She graduated from Stanford University in 1959 with a degree in international relations and earned a J.D. in 1963 from Northwestern University Law School. After graduating from Northwestern she clerked for the Honorable Luther M. Swygert in the U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit. She married Rody Biggert and the couple raised four children: Courtney, Alison, Rody, and Adrienne. Judy Biggert operated a home-based private law practice specializing in real estate, estate planning, and probate law from 1975 to 1998. She became active in local politics, serving as School Board President of Hinsdale Township High School District 86. She later chaired the Visiting Nurses Association of Chicago and served as President of the Junior League of Chicago. In 1992, Biggert won election to the Illinois state house of representatives and served three consecutive terms (1993–1999). In the state legislature, she authored strict anti-crime laws, worked to balance the state budget without raising taxes, and sponsored tort reform legislation.
In 1998, Biggert ran for a congressional seat representing the southwest Chicago suburbs, vacated by retiring Republican Harris W. Fawell. Biggert topped a more conservative primary challenger, 45 to 40 percent. She later remarked that women politicians “are held to an awfully high standard. We have to work three times as hard.”2 In the general election, Biggert defeated Democrat Susan W. Hynes, a business executive, with 61 percent of the vote.3 In each of her six re-election bids, Biggert won by wide margins averaging more than 60 percent of the vote.4
As a freshman Member, in the 106th Congress (1999–2001), Biggert was appointed to three committees: Government Reform; Banking and Financial Services (later named the Financial Services Committee); and Science (later Science and Technology, and then Science, Space, and Technology). In the 107th Congress (2001–2003), she left Government Reform for assignments on the Education and Workforce Committee and the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. In the 108th and 109th Congresses (2003–2007), Biggert served as chair of the Energy Subcommittee of the Science Committee. When Democrats gained the majority and organized the House in the 110th Congress (2007–2009), Biggert left her position on the Standards of Official Conduct Committee. In the 112th Congress (2011–2013), when Republicans recaptured the majority, Biggert served as chair of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity. Beyond committee work, Biggert co-chaired the Women’s Caucus in the 107th Congress. She also co-founded four caucuses (Judicial Branch; Literacy; Research and Development; and Homelessness).5 Biggert twice ran for Republican Conference Secretary and lost in both 2001 and 2002.
Biggert made her mark in the House as an advocate for education reform, child care for low income families, and expanded legal assistance for victims of domestic violence. In early 2001, Biggert introduced the McKinney–Vento Homeless Act of 2001—a bill which built upon 1980s legislation to extend educational opportunities to homeless children. According to Biggert’s research, 45 percent of the approximately 1 million homeless children nationwide did not attend school on a regular basis. Her bill sought to ensure their enrollment and reduced bureaucratic roadblocks that might prevent children who moved frequently in transient families from attending class. The bill also expanded federal funding to help states better track and aid these students. “Being without a home should not mean being without an education,” Biggert said in a floor speech in 1999. “Yet that is what homelessness has meant for far too many of our children and youth today; red tape, lack of information, and bureaucratic delays that result in their missing school and missing the chance at a better life.”6 Much of her bill was passed by the House in the 1999 Students Results Act. When she submitted another version in 2001, the bill moved quickly through the Congress and was signed into law by President George W. Bush on September 20, 2001. She also introduced a “Building, Renovating, Improving, and Constructing Kids’ Schools (BRICKS) Act” in 2001 to address the “deplorable conditions” and “crumbling infrastructure” of elementary and secondary schools nationwide. With an estimated $112 billion in repairs required for existing school facilities, her legislation would provide for interest-free and low-interest loans for construction and repairs at the state and local level.7 In the 109th through 112th Congresses, Biggert introduced legislation to provide greater educational assistance to homeless children. “Whether they are in a motel or jumping from couch to couch, these kids need help.”8
After the 2010 Census, Biggert’s Republican district was redrawn by the Illinois legislature to favor a Democratic candidate. Biggert lost the 2012 general election to her Democratic opponent, former Congressman Bill Foster by 17 percent.9 Reflecting on her career, she remarked, “Representing the people of this area has been the great honor of my lifetime. I can never thank them enough for their kindnesses towards me, their generosity with their ideas, their patience when we don’t see eye-to-eye, and their deep love of community and country.”10
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
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