In her one term in Congress, Kathy Dahlkemper worked to keep the interests of her entire constituency in mind. “I made a promise to the people of Western Pennsylvania not to work for a political party, but to advocate for their interests and find practical, common sense solutions to the challenges facing our region. I take that promise very seriously and work every day to keep it.”1
Kathleen A. Steenberge was born on December 10, 1957, to Carl W. and M. Janet Clarke Steenberge in Erie, Pennsylvania. She was raised in Erie, attended Edinboro State College in Erie, and received her B.S. in dietetics in 1982.2 She briefly worked in Houston, Texas as a dietician before moving back to Erie in 1986 to open her own office.3 While in college, she became pregnant, and married the father of her child. She divorced soon thereafter, and raised her son, Aron, as a single mother on food stamps and without health care.4 She later married Dan Dahlkemper and together they had four children: Gretchen, Linden, Tricia and Nathan. She worked at the landscaping company owned by her father–in–law, and in 1997 Dahlkemper and her husband took over operations. Dahlkemper served as the director of the Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier Park, Pennsylvania from 2000 to 2008.
Dahlkemper was persuaded to run for Congress by friends and family in 2007. “Honestly, it was not something I was thinking about before I was asked.”5 In her first attempt for political office, she campaigned as a concerned citizen looking to effect change, using her experience as a single mother together with her story as a small business owner to introduce herself to voters. After winning a four–way contest for the Democratic nomination, she went on to challenge seven–term Republican incumbent Phil English. In the 2008 general election Dahlkemper was able to seize on discontent with the George W. Bush administration and challenged English for supporting Bush. Dahlkemper campaigned on the economy and job creation, issues that northwest Pennsylvania, once an industrial hub, had struggled with for many years. Dahlkemper defeated English 51 percent to 49 percent.6 When she was sworn in on January 6, 2009, Dahlkemper became the first woman to represent the northwestern region of Pennsylvania in Congress.7
Dahlkemper promised her constituents that her voting record would reflect a centrist position. She joined the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative Democrats, was pro–gun rights, and referred to her anti–abortion, anti–death penalty view as her “whole life” stance, meaning, “the sanctity of life from birth to natural death.”8 While she backed legislation such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, she voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 because of the potentially adverse effects it would have on energy prices and manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania.9 Dahlkemper also was the principal sponsor of a piece of legislation that enjoyed bipartisan support, the Homebuyer Assistance and Improvement Act of 2010, which extended a tax credit for first time homebuyers.10
Congresswoman Dahlkemper held seats on the Agriculture, Science and Technology, and Small Business committees, and she chaired the Small Business Subcommittee on Regulations and Healthcare. On that panel, she authored several bills including the Small Business Health Information Technology Financing Act. The bill would have created a loan program through the Small Business Administration to help businesses purchase technology that generated electronic health records, and while it passed the House by a voice vote, it did not come to a vote in the Senate.
In addition to her focus on small businesses, Representative Dahlkemper aimed to bring economic revitalization into Erie through infrastructure and agricultural projects. She worked with the Federal Aviation Administration to secure $6 million for an extension of the Erie International Airport, and fought alongside other members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation to stop the creation of tolls on Interstate 80, citing potential damage to local commerce.11 Dahlkemper used her seat on the Agriculture Committee to aid farmers in her district. She joined other dairy–state Members to reconstitute the bipartisan Congressional Dairy Farmers Caucus in 2009 and pushed for expansion of the Dairy Product Price Support Program run by the Department of Agriculture.12
Outside of her committee work, Dahlkemper’s experience as a dietician informed the negotiations over health care reform during the 111th Congress. She wrote the Young Adult Healthcare Coverage Act of 2009, which altered insurance policy laws to allow children under the age of 30 to stay on a parent’s health insurance plan.13 The popular measure was included within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, with the coverage age reduced to 26. Ultimately, the Congresswoman was one of a group of conservative Democrats who withheld their support for the health care bill until President Obama issued an Executive Order that barred the use of federal funds for abortions.14
Dahlkemper was defeated in 2010 by Mike Kelly, a Republican auto dealer and city councilman from Butler, Pennsylvania. He defeated Dahlkemper with 55.7 to 44.3 percent of the vote.15 “I delivered on the promises I made on the campaign trail,” Representative Dahlkemper said after conceding the race to Kelly. “To reform the health care system, take on the fiscal irresponsibility in Washington and strengthen the economy of Western Pennsylvania.”16 Dahlkemper returned to Erie, Pennsylvania, where she successfully ran for the seat of Erie County Executive. As the second female executive in the county's history, Dahlkemper won with 56.8 percent of the vote.17
1“Vote Analysis Places Dahlkemper at Center of House,” 28 February 2010, Targeted News Service.
2Edinboro State College became a member of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education on July 1, 1983, and renamed as Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.
3Almanac of American Politics, 2010 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 2009): 1271.
4Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (10 June 2009): H6524; Margie Omero, “Is There Room for a Pro–Life Democratic Woman? The Case for Kathy Dahlkemper,” 26 October 2010, The Huffington Post, www.huffingtonpost.com/ (accesed 3 January 2011).
5Madeline Buckley, “2012 Project Seeking Women Candidates,” 17 July 2011, Pittsburgh Post–Gazette.
6“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, http://clerk.house.gov/.
7Daniel M. Shea and Stephen K. Medvic, “All Politics Is Local . . . Except When It Isn’t,” Cases in Congressional Campaigns: Incumbents Playing Defense, ed. Randall E. Adkins and David A. Dulio (New York: Routledge, 2010): 164.
8Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (10 June 2009): H6524.
9“Erie Times–News Endorses Kathy Dahlkemper for U.S. House,” 24 October 2010, Go Erie, http://goerie.com (accessed 21 December 2010); “Rep. Dahlkemper: Climate Change Bill Places Disproportionate Burden on Northwestern PA,” 26 June 2009, States News Service; Darren Samuelsohn, “Climate: ‘I Know It’s Going to be a Close Vote’ – Obama,” 25 June 2009, Environment & Energy Publishing (E&E).
10Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 2nd sess. (29 June 2010): H4944; Congressional Record, Senate, 111th Cong., 2nd sess. (30 June 2010): S5679.
11“Dahlkemper Helps Deliver $6 Million to Erie Airport; Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D–PA) News Release,” 12 July 2010; Daniel Malloy, “Lawmakers Go to D.C. to Fight I–80 Tolling,” 18 December 2009, Pittsburgh Post–Gazette: B4.
12Jim Hook, “Franklin County Area Dairy Farmers Talk to House Ag. Committee in Harrisburg,” 4 May 2010, Public Opinion (Chambersburg, PA); “Rep. Dahlkemper Votes to Promote Rural Communities, Farmers,” 9 July 2009, Office of Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, States News Service.
13“Dahlkemper Announces that Some Insurance Companies Will Voluntarily Provide Immediate Coverage for Young Adults Under Age 26,” 20 April 2010, Website of Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper at http://dahlkemper.house.gov (website discontinued).
14Timothy McNulty, “Democrat Hopes to Keep 3rd District House Seat,” 20 September 2010, Pittsburgh Post–Gazette: A8.
15“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, http://clerk.house.gov/ .
16Timothy McNulty, “Altmire Retains Seat, Dahlkemper Out,” 3 November 2010, Pittsburgh Post–Gazette: B1.
17Kevin Flowers, "Dahlkemper Elected Erie County Executive," 6 November 2013, Erie (Pa.) Times-News; http://goerie.com (accessed 7 January 2014); Kevin Flowers, "Dahlkemper Sworn In As County Executive," 3 January 2014, Erie Times-News; http://goerie.com (accessed 7 January 2014).