ENGLISH, Karan

ENGLISH, Karan
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1949–

Biography

Karan English won election to the U.S. House as an environmental reformer from one of the nation’s largest mining districts, an expansive area covering northeastern Arizona. Congresswoman English’s single term in the House centered on her effort to balance strong mineral development interests among her constituency with her own convictions about the necessity of environmental protections.

Karan English was born in Berkeley, California, on March 23, 1949. She attended Shasta Junior College and the University of California at Santa Barbara, before earning a B.A. from the University of Arizona in 1973. She then worked as a conservation program director. In 1980 English was elected to the Coconino County board of supervisors, serving from 1981 to 1987. She also raised two children, Stacy and David, after divorcing her husband in 1984. She won election to the Arizona state legislature, serving from 1987 to 1991. By 1990, she had risen to the state senate, where she served a two–year term, chairing the environment committee and serving on the education and transportation panels. One of her legislative achievements in the state senate was to craft a bill that imposed a “cradle–to–grave” system for transporting, treating, and disposing of hazardous waste material.1 In 1992, she married Rob Elliott, a rafting business owner and Flagstaff politician, with three children from a previous marriage.

English entered the 1992 race for a newly apportioned U.S. House district that stretched from the suburbs of Phoenix and Scottsdale in central Arizona to the sprawling counties of Apache, Gila, and Navajo in the northeastern corner of the state. She captured 44 percent of the vote, defeating two challengers in the Democratic primary, including her colleague in the state senate, minority leader Alan Stephens. In the general election, she faced Doug Wead, a minister who had been the George H.W. Bush administration’s liaison with religious leaders. She ran on a platform that reflected her experience in the state legislature: environmental cleanup, more funding for AIDS research and relief, and cutting the budget deficit.2 English secured support from two key national groups: EMILY’s List and the Women’s Campaign Fund. But the endorsement that propelled her in the polls came from an unlikely source. As her campaign got underway, her son, David, took an unexpected phone call at their Flagstaff home. The caller was Barry Goldwater, the conservative godfather of Arizona politics, former U.S. Senator, and one–time presidential candidate. He wanted to speak to English. When her son replied she wasn’t at home, Goldwater said, “Well, tell your mother, if I lived in the Sixth District, I’d vote for her.” The endorsement made its way into the media, with Goldwater stating that he was concerned with Republican candidate Doug Wead’s “connection to the religious right” and with the fact that Wead, having lived in the state for just two years, was something of a political carpetbagger.3 English became only the second woman elected to Congress from Arizona (the first was Isabella Greenway in the 1930s) by defeating Wead, 53 to 41 percent.4

When English took her seat in the 103rd Congress (1993–1995), she was appointed to the Natural Resources and the Education and Labor committees. Following her work in the Arizona legislature, she used the Natural Resources seat to focus on environmental issues, despite the fact that her district encompassed large ranching and mining interests. In 1992, nearly half of all copper mining in the U.S. took place in English’s district and the industry was the largest employer in the district, providing jobs for nearly 30,000 people, both directly and in support trades. English spoke out in favor of the Mineral Exploration and Development Act of 1993, a bill that the mining industry and environmental groups roundly criticized. It represented Congress’s effort to reform the General Mining Law of 1872 by eliminating a patenting system that priced public lands for as little as $2.50 per acre, raising operations standards, and creating a federal land reclamation fund to deal with the restoration of mined lands. Placing herself in the “pro–responsible mining camp” English declared that mining must “be accompanied by a fair return to the owners of the land: the American taxpayer… . Clearly what is needed here—what is always needed—is balance. Let us realize that the old acrimonious debate pitting jobs versus the environment is ultimately self–defeating. Arizonans at least know that in the long–term, we must maintain a healthy partnership between extractive uses of the public lands and environmental protection.”5 Mining interests objected that the bill would prohibit any new mining on public lands. Environmentalists believed that English had given away too much to the industry. Adding to English’s difficulties with district industries, ranching and farm interests chafed at her support for a tax hike on gasoline and an increase in grazing fees.

Some of English’s personal experiences shaped her legislative initiatives. In the early 1990s, she had a scare with breast cancer which led her to push for the Access to Rural Health Information Act in 1994. Her bill called for the establishment of a toll–free hotline for rural residents to receive information ranging from medical services and physician referrals to where to go for domestic violence counseling. “Rural America faces a tough challenge in providing health care to its residents,” English noted. “Primarily, these problems can be attributed to the lack of primary care providers, physical and economic barriers, and the fragile nature of rural health care delivery systems dependent on a sparse population base. When a rural area loses its doctor, it often loses its health care.”6

English faced a tough re–election campaign in the fall of 1994. Many of her votes had not resonated well with her conservative–leaning constituents. In addition to the controversial mining and ranching reforms she supported, English also had voted in favor of abortion rights, the William J. Clinton administration’s 1993 budget, the Brady Handgun Bill, and the 1994 ban on assault weapons. Even Goldwater retracted his support for her. She lost to Republican J.D. Hayworth, a former television sportscaster, by a 55 to 42 percent margin. After the election, she recalled, “I didn’t lose to J.D. I lost to the Christian Coalition. And they didn’t beat me, they beat this image that had been created over the past two years and I couldn’t turn it around.” She was not alone. Sixteen of the 1992 freshman class—all Democrats—were turned out of office in the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” which gave control of the House to the GOP for the first time in 40 years. In a late November meeting of the Democratic Caucus, recriminations flew over the election defeat for House Democrats, with at least one lawmaker observing that some of the damage could have been mitigated if some of the freshmen Members had not voted the way they did on politically sensitive issues. English offered a sharp retort: “To suggest that we shouldn’t have taken these tough votes to save our careers … [is] exactly what the problem is in Congress. I came here to do something, not to be somebody.” The Caucus gave her a standing ovation.7

After Congress, English returned to Flagstaff, Arizona, where she worked with the National Democratic Institute of International Affairs as a consultant for countries developing democratic institutions. Since 1997, English has worked at Northern Arizona University, where she currently directs its ecological monitoring and assessment program.

Footnotes

1“The 103rd Congress: Why This Freshman Class Is Greener Than Ever Before,” April 1993, Environmental Health Perspectives, 101 (No. 1), online at http://ehpnet.lniehs.nih.gov/docs/1993/101–1/spheres.html (accessed 18 June 2002).

2Daniel Wood, “Two Women Take on GOP in Arizona Races,” 19 October 1992, Christian Science Monitor, special section, “Campaign ’92”: 9.

3Charles Hirshberg, “Ms. English Goes to Washington,” April 1993, Life: 68; Steve Yozwaik, “Goldwater Jolts GOP, Backs Democrat: Wead Dealt Blow By His Hero, Who Favors Rival English,” 30 October 1992, Arizona Republic online archive at http://www.arizonarepublic.com (accessed 18 June 2002).

4“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/electionInfo/index.aspx.

5Congressional Record, House, 103rd Cong., 1st sess. (16 November 1993): 9739.

6Congressional Record, House, 103rd Cong., 2nd sess. (21 April 1994): 751.

7Kevin Merida, “Hill Reformers of ’92 Bow to Class of ‘94; Turned Out After a Term, Arizona Democrat Ponders What Could Have Been,” 1 December 1994, Washington Post: A1.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

Northern Arizona University
Cline Library

Flagstaff, AZ
Papers: 1980-1994, 91 linear feet. The papers are from Karan English's tenure as Coconino County Supervisor, her two terms in the Arizona House, one term in the Arizona Senate, and one term in the U.S. Congress. The collection includes files on northern Arizona and Arizona political issues, environmental issues, the impeachment of Evan Mecham, and women's issues.
Papers: In the Mecham Impeachment Collection, ca. 1987, 3 linear feet. Subjects include Karan English.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Karan English" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Education and Labor
  • House Committee - Natural Resources
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