At age 38, former two–term U.S. Representative Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas became the youngest woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate. During her tenure in Congress, Lincoln was a proponent for farmers and rural families, and in 2009, she became the first woman to chair the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.1 She stressed the importance of her maternal responsibilities, and devised a schedule where she could achieve balance between her official and family duties.2 “The most important thing to me was to have a family,” Lincoln said. “I always knew there would be filler. I just didn’t know that my filler would be the Senate.”3
The youngest of four children, Blanche M. Lambert was born in Helena, Arkansas, on September 30, 1960, to Jordan Lambert, Jr., and Martha Kelly Lambert. The Lamberts were sixth–generation farmers of cotton, rice, wheat, and soybeans. After attending public school, Lambert graduated with a B.S. in biology from Randolph–Macon Women’s College, in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1982. In 1983, Lambert went to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a staff assistant for Arkansas Democratic Congressman Bill Alexander. From 1985 until 1991, she worked for lobbying firms as a researcher.
In 1992, Lambert challenged her old boss, Representative Alexander, for the Democratic nomination in his rural northeast Arkansas district, which included farmland along the Mississippi River as well as the city of Jonesboro.4 She ran on a lean budget, traveling the sprawling district in a pick–up truck and using connections to local chapters of Business and Professional Women as a campaign base.5 Lambert prevailed in the primary with 61 percent of the vote, carrying all but two of the district’s 25 counties. In the general election, she defeated a Republican real estate developer with 70 percent of the vote.6 In 1993, Blanche Lambert married Steve Lincoln, a pediatrician. In 1994, she was re–elected to a second term.
When Lincoln joined the 103rd Congress (1993–1995), she secured a seat on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee over the preference of the committee chairman, whom she soon impressed.7 She also was assigned to the Agriculture Committee and was appointed to the coveted Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, the party leadership body that makes committee assignments. She advocated for affordable health care coverage for farmers and the self–employed. On fiscal matters she was more conservative, voting for the Penny–Kasich plan to cut federal spending and, in her second term, approving a balanced budget constitutional amendment. Lincoln also voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993 and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs in 1994. In January 1996, she announced her decision not to seek re–election in the House after learning she was pregnant with twins.8 After the boys, Reece and Bennett, were born that summer, Lincoln served out the remainder of her term and returned to Arkansas.
When incumbent Senator Dale Bumpers announced his retirement in 1998, Lincoln won the Democratic nomination in a four–way primary to succeed him.9 Her general election opponent was a tax reform and anti–abortion conservative from the Arkansas state senate. Lincoln, who supported women’s reproductive choice, ran on her credentials as a mother and pledged to support women’s and children’s health issues in the Senate.10 She prevailed with 55 percent of the vote. In 2004, Lincoln was re–elected with 56 percent of the vote over a Republican state senator.11 Her three committee assignments in the 106th Congress (1999–2001) included Energy and Natural Resources; Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; and the Special Committee on Aging. In 2000, she co–authored Nine and Counting, a book by and about the women of the Senate. In the 107th Congress (2001–2003), she left Energy and Natural Resources to join the Finance Committee (she was only the third woman in that panel’s history) and the Select Committee on Ethics.
As a cofounder of the Senate New Democrat Coalition, Lincoln maintained her profile as a moderate, voting for the 2001 tax cut but against other proposals made by the George W. Bush administration, such as drilling for oil on Alaska’s North Slope.12 She focused on agricultural issues affecting Arkansas farmers, sponsoring legislation related to flooding and crop insurance. In the 106th Congress, she joined the World Trade Organization Caucus and tried to open Cuban markets to Arkansas rice farmers. In the 107th Congress she wrote a bill providing for tax credits to spur the development of biodiesel fuel made from soybeans. In December 2000, Lincoln successfully shepherded through the Senate the Delta Regional Authority, a centralized agency to foster economic development in the lower Mississippi Delta region.13 During the 109th Congress (2005–2007), Lincoln continued to advocate for the development of alternative energy sources. And during the 110th Congress (2007–2009), Lincoln introduced legislation investing in after–school programs and child care.
At the start of the 111th Congress (2009–2011), with unified Democratic government for the first time since her freshman term in the House, Lincoln became a pivotal figure in the passage of legislation important to President Barack Obama. She supported health care reform and a major overhaul of financial regulations.14 When committee assignments changed in the wake of the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy in 2009, Lincoln became the first woman to chair the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. “As a seventh–generation Arkansan and farmer’s daughter, I know my father is smiling down on me today,” Lincoln said.15 Lincoln’s signature accomplishment as chair was the passage of the Healthy, Hunger–Free Kids Act of 2010 (Public Law 111–296), which reformed public school lunch programs to combat childhood obesity.16
Lincoln faced a primary challenger during the 2010 election cycle, Arkansas lieutenant governor Bill Halter, who argued that Lincoln supported corporate interests over those of working families.17 Halter forced a runoff primary by coming within two percentage points of Lincoln during the May 2010 primary.18 While Lincoln managed to defeat Halter in the June 2010 runoff by four percentage points, she faced further challenges during the general election.19 U.S. Representative John Boozman, whose brother Fay was Lincoln’s first Republican senatorial challenger in 1998, ran against Lincoln in the general and argued that she was too supportive of President Obama’s policies, which were largely unpopular in the state.20 Boozman defeated Lincoln in the general election with nearly 58 percent of the vote.21
When she bid farewell to the Senate during a floor speech on December 15, 2010, Lincoln said: “I came to Congress to fight on behalf of our Nation’s children, families, veterans, small businesses, and farmers, and I am honored and humbled that in each of these areas, I was able to achieve legislative success on their behalf.”22 After leaving the Senate, Lincoln took a position as a policy adviser in a Washington, D.C., law firm.23
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
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