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MILLENDER-MCDONALD, Juanita

MILLENDER-McDONALD, Juanita
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1938–2007

Biography

A fast-rising star in California politics, Juanita Millender-McDonald won her seat in the United States House of Representatives just six years after capturing her first elected office. From her position on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Millender-McDonald shaped transportation legislation and federal programs that directly affected her Los Angeles district. In 2007 she made history by becoming one of the first African-American women to chair a standing committee in Congress, the House Administration Committee.1

Juanita Millender-McDonald was born Juanita Millender on September 7, 1938, in Birmingham, Alabama, one of five children raised by Shelly and Everlina (Dortch) Millender. After her mother, Everlina, died, Shelly Millender, a minister, moved his family to California. Juanita Millender married James McDonald Jr. on July 26, 1955, and by the time she was 26, the couple had five children. A homemaker for 15 years, Millender-McDonald returned to college, earning a BS in business administration from California’s University of Redlands in 1981. Millender-McDonald earned an MA in educational administration from California State University in Los Angeles in 1988. After teaching math and English in a public high school, she worked as an administrator in the Los Angeles unified school district—eventually directing its gender equality programs.2

Millender-McDonald first entered politics at the local level in Los Angeles and served as a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1984, 1988, and 1992. In 1982 she worked on behalf of the unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign of longtime Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley. Afterward she worked on several local campaigns before entering and winning election for a seat on the Carson City council in 1990. She was adroit at building networks of political support during the race. The first time she asked for help from United States Representative Mervyn Malcolm Dymally, he declined, telling Millender-McDonald, “Local politics is too divisive; I don’t want to get involved.” But she was persistent. Dymally said, “She came back, this time with a delegation of friends and supporters. I said, ‘What do you want?’ She said, ‘I need your endorsement.’ I said, ‘You have it.’”3 Millender-McDonald became the first African-American woman elected to the council and in 1991 served as Carson City mayor pro tempore. In 1992, following the reapportionment of California state assembly districts, Millender-McDonald defeated two incumbent assemblymen whose Los Angeles-area districts had been merged. The contest broke down largely by race, and Millender-McDonald prevailed when the incumbents split the white vote; she went on to serve in the California state assembly until 1996.4 Within her first year in the assembly, she chaired two panels: the insurance committee and the revenue and taxation committee. From those posts, she sponsored a major transportation bill to create the Alameda Corridor, a national transportation artery designed to improve railroad and highway access to the San Pedro Bay Ports, which constitute one of the nation’s largest shipping complexes.5

In December 1995, Millender-McDonald announced her candidacy to fill a U.S. House seat left vacant by the resignation of Representative Walter R. Tucker III. Tucker’s congressional district—which encompassed suburbs south of Los Angeles, including Carson and Compton—was predominantly Democratic and working-class. African Americans and Hispanic Americans composed roughly 75 percent of the population. Although no GOP challenger entered the March 26, 1996, special election to fill the remainder of the 104th Congress (1995–1997), Millender-McDonald faced nine other candidates, including fellow state assemblyman Willard H. Murray and Robin Tucker, the wife of Walter Tucker. With support from former longtime speaker of the state assembly and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Millender-McDonald won with 27 percent of the vote; her nearest competitor, Murray, received 20 percent. The Democratic primary for the full term in the 105th Congress (1997–1999) was held on the same day, and Millender-McDonald prevailed over Murray by an even narrower margin: 24 to 21 percent.6 In the fall 1996 campaign for the 105th Congress, she defeated Republican Michael E. Voetee with 85 percent of the vote. Millender-McDonald won her subsequent five re-elections with majorities of at least 75 percent. In 2006, she defeated Republican Herb Peters with 82 percent of the vote.7

After she was sworn into the House on April 16, 1996, Millender-McDonald served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Small Business Committee. She kept both assignments throughout her congressional tenure. In the 106th Congress (1999–2001), she was appointed Ranking Member of the Small Business Subcommittee on Empowerment.8 Democratic leaders also named her a regional party Whip, and in the 107th Congress (2001–2003) she co-chaired the Democratic Caucus for Women’s Issues. In the 108th Congress (2003– 2005) she drew assignments on the House Administration Committee and the Joint Printing Committee, and she was appointed Ranking Member of the Small Business Subcommittee on Tax, Finance, and Exports.9 In the 109th Congress (2005–2007), Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California named Millender-McDonald Ranking Member of the House Administration Committee.10 After Democrats regained control of the House in the 2006 elections, Millender-McDonald became chairwoman of the House Administration Committee. She also held the vice chair post on the Joint Committee on the Library, whose membership roster was drawn from the House Administration Committee and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

Many of Millender-McDonald’s legislative initiatives came from her seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In 2001 Millender-McDonald authored the Terrorism Threat to Public Transportation Assessment Act—a measure to evaluate vulnerabilities in the nation’s mass transit systems. She also was a lead sponsor of the Nuclear Waste Responsible Component and Protection Act, which sought to ensure environmentally sound and safe means of transporting and storing chemical waste outside of inner cities. Her place on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee also allowed her to attend to transportation projects directly affecting her district. During her first months in the House, Millender-McDonald secured $400 million in federal loan guarantees necessary to complete her longtime work on the Alameda Corridor, a 20-mile railroad artery that connects the national rail system to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. In the 108th Congress, Millender-McDonald helped draft the six-year Transportation Equity Act—which brought in more than $87 million in federal money for highway projects in and around her district. Her addition to that bill, the Projects of National and Regional Significance program, allocated more than $6.6 billion toward major transportation projects nationally.11

Much of Millender-McDonald’s House career was dedicated to the interests she held since her days in the California assembly: the Los Angeles public school system, job training, childcare, education, women’s issues, and combating drug abuse. Millender-McDonald also worked on promoting awareness of health issues like cervical cancer, AIDS, asthma, and bone marrow registration. Although she worked away from the limelight, Millender-McDonald occasionally orchestrated dramatic political moments. In 1996 she brought Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director John Deutsch to a Watts town hall meeting, where Deutsch fielded questions about allegations that the CIA funneled proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs to purchase arms for the Nicaraguan Contras. Three years later, seeking to boost the stalled ambassadorial appointment to New Zealand of former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois, Millender-McDonald staged a sit-in at the office of Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who was blocking the appointment.12

In mid-April 2007, Millender-McDonald took a six-week leave of absence from her House duties to receive treatment for cancer. She passed away at her home in Compton on April 21. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remembered Millender-McDonald as “a trailblazer, always advocating for the full participation of all Americans in the success and prosperity of our country.”13

Footnotes

1Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio was simultaneously appointed chairwoman of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

2Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2003): 138.

3Nicole Gaouette, “Juanita Millender-McDonald, 68; Southland Congresswoman,” 23 April 2007, Los Angeles Times: B9.

4Politics in America, 1998 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1997): 194.

5Politics in America, 2004: 139.

6Politics in America, 1998: 193–194.

7Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

8Congressional Directory, 106th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1999): 422.

9Congressional Directory, 108th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2003): 423.

10Almanac of American Politics, 2006 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group, 2005): 270.

11Politics in America, 2004: 138; “Congresswoman Millender-McDonald,” official website of Representative Juanita Millender-McDonald, 24 November 2004, https://web.archive.org/web/20041118042454/http://www.house.gov/millender-mcdonald/bio.htm; James Bornemeier, “Broader Horizons; Seat in Congress Opens New Doors for Juanita Millender-McDonald,” 21 April 1996, Los Angeles Times: A3; SAFETEA-LU, PL 109-59, 119 Stat. 1144 (2005).

12Gaouette, “Juanita Millender-McDonald, 68; Southland Congresswoman.”

13Gaouette, “Juanita Millender-McDonald, 68; Southland Congresswoman”; Kelly McCormack and Sam Youngman, “Millender-McDonald Remembered for ‘Dignity,’ ‘Determination,’” 24 April 2007, The Hill: 13.

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

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External Research Collections

African American Museum and Library at Oakland

Oakland, CA
Papers: In the Ronald V. Dellums Congressional Papers, 1971-1999, 47 linear feet. Persons represented include Juanita Millender-McDonald.

California State University, Dominguez Hills
Archives and Special Collections

Carson, CA
Papers: ca. 1984-2007, 13.34 linear feet. The Juanita Millender-McDonald Collection includes: correspondence, newsletters, press releases, speeches, reports, flyers, questionnaires, bills and amendments, greeting cards, newspaper clippings, and ephemera including photos, plaques and video tapes. A large number of files are devoted to the Congressional Black Caucus, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Congressional Caucus on Women’s issues, California Assembly, and House Administration. Subjects include labor issues, HIV/AIDS, CIA Nicaraguan Contra scandal, education, minority issues, finance, health, the John Kerry Presidential Campaign, political practices and policies, transportation and China. A finding aid is available in the repository and online.
Videotapes: In the California State University, Dominguez Hills Video Collections, 1973-2006, 30 linear feet. Persons represented include Congresswoman Juanita Millender McDonald.

University of California, Los Angeles
Chicano Studies Research Center

Los Angeles, CA
Papers: In the Comision Femenil de Los Angeles Papers II, ca. 1980-1990, amount unknown. Correspondents include Juanita Millender-McDonald.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Juanita Millender-McDonald" in Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007. 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, 2008.

"Juanita Millender-McDonald" 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 - House Administration - Chair
  • House Committee - Small Business
  • House Committee - Transportation and Infrastructure
  • Joint Committee - Joint Committee on Printing
  • Joint Committee - Joint Committee on the Library
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