NORTHUP, Anne Meagher

NORTHUP, Anne Meagher
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives


A Louisville native and 10-year veteran of the Kentucky state legislature, Anne Northup won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996, the first woman in more than 60 years to represent her state in Congress. In her first term, Northup gained a seat on the influential Appropriations Committee which oversees federal spending. Her chief legislative pursuits centered on education issues and the procurement of federal dollars for transportation projects and community programs in her Louisville district.

Anne Northup was born Anne Meagher in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 22, 1948, one of 11 children raised by James and Floy Meagher. In 1966 she graduated from Sacred Heart Academy of Louisville and, four years later, earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Saint Mary’s College in Indiana. In college she met Robert (Woody) Northup, and the two married in 1969. The couple settled in Louisville, where Anne worked as a math teacher and raised their six children: David, Katie, Joshua, Kevin, Erin, and Mark. By the early 1980s, she began volunteering for political candidates, including Ronald Reagan’s two runs for President.1 Northup’s first campaign for elective office was in a 1987 special election for a seat in the Kentucky legislature, representing a Louisville district in the state house of representatives. She won and was re-elected to four additional terms, serving from 1987 to 1996. At the state capitol, Northup was an outspoken critic of the tobacco industry, a major part of the state’s economy. She introduced legislation to curb tobacco sales to minors and levy a tax on the crop.2

In 1996 Northup challenged one-term Democratic incumbent Michael Delavan Ward for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from Louisville. The district, which overlapped with portions of Northup’s state legislature district, covered the larger Louisville and Jefferson County area, where registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans two-to-one. Tobacco, health care, shipping, and tourism accounted for much of the district’s economy. Northup, who opposed abortion and same-sex marriage, won the support of social conservatives. She also pledged to reduce government spending. “Sometimes something might look great, but, hey, if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it,” she declared.3 Northup narrowly defeated Ward—by about 1,300 votes out of more than 250,000 cast—even though Democratic President William J. (Bill) Clinton carried the district in his re-election. In her next three re-elections, Northup won by slightly larger margins. In 2004 she won a fifth consecutive term by the largest margin of her career, 60 to 38 percent.4

When Northup first claimed her seat in the 105th Congress (1997–1999), Republican leaders identified her as a rising star and assigned her a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which controls federal spending. She served on Appropriations for her entire House career. During her five terms, Northup held assignments on several Appropriations subcommittees covering the District of Columbia, the Postal Service, and several Cabinet departments including Health and Human Services; Treasury, Labor, Housing and Urban Development; Transportation; and Veterans’ Affairs.5

As a former teacher and a mother of six, Northup prioritized education reform. In 1997 she authored a bill instructing the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to create a national panel to assess the status of current research on reading instruction and to evaluate various methods of teaching children to read. Similar language was included in a report accompanying a 1998 appropriations law, which established the National Reading Panel.6 The findings of the panel, which emphasized the use of phonics in reading instruction, was incorporated into the No Child Left Behind Act, a major education reform law signed by President George W. Bush in 2002.7 In 1998 Northup founded the Congressional Reading Caucus to raise awareness of school children who struggled to learn to read.8

Northup’s seat on the Appropriations Committee allowed her to bring millions of federal dollars to her district to support infrastructure improvements and community organizations. She procured money for the development of the Louisville waterfront, education and job training programs, violence prevention programs, and defense projects at the Naval Ordnance Station Louisville. Northup focused attention towards the construction of two new bridges across the Ohio River connecting Louisville to southern Indiana. During her first year in office, she successfully requested $40 million to conduct design work on the bridges. In 2005 she worked with Indiana Representative Michael E. Sodrel to earmark $58 million towards construction costs.9 Despite her use of earmarks—the practice of setting aside funding for specific projects—Northup believed that the federal government could curb spending and continue to aid local communities effectively. The federal government, she once told the Louisville Courier-Journal, should “partner” with communities rather than expend billions through federal agencies in Washington. “A lot of what the government does can be done much more effectively when it empowers people on the front line,” she observed.10

As a mother of two adopted children, Northup also took an interest in establishing adoption programs between the United States and China, seeking to reduce bureaucratic obstacles in the process. In 2002 she traveled to China to encourage the country to raise their limit on the number of Chinese children adopted by foreign parents.11 Northup cosponsored legislation that included a provision to double the adoption tax credit, which was signed into law in 2001.12

Northup’s legislative agenda also worked to limit regulations on businesses. In 2001 she introduced legislation to invalidate an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule that required ergonomic equipment for workers who perform repetitive tasks to protect them from motion-related injuries. Northup argued that the rule caused undue burden on businesses and “simply isn’t feasible.” An identical joint resolution was signed into law later that year.13 Northup also voted for the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, which lifted tariffs, provided billions of dollars in tax breaks for corporations, and funded a quota buyout for tobacco farmers in her state.14

In the fall 2006 general election, Northup faced Democratic candidate John Yarmuth, a Louisville native and political commentator. In a close race, Yarmuth rode a Democratic political tide that drew upon disaffection with the Republican-led Congress and the George W. Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq. Yarmuth defeated Northup by a margin of 51 to 48 percent.15 In early 2007, after leaving the House, Northup announced her decision to challenge incumbent Kentucky Governor Ernest L. Fletcher in the Republican primary. Fletcher, who faced criticism over his involvement in a hiring scandal in the state’s merit system, overcame the fallout and defeated Northup in the May 22 primary.16

In 2008 Northup sought to reclaim her old House seat and held a rematch with Yarmuth. Yarmuth again tied Northup to the Bush administration and the unpopular Iraq War, as well as the growing economic crisis. Northup, an advocate for smaller government, countered by criticizing Yarmuth’s vote to approve hundreds of billions of dollars to support the financial industry which teetered on the edge of collapse. On Election Day, Yarmuth easily won re-election, taking 59 percent of the vote to Northup’s 41 percent.17

In 2009 President Barack Obama nominated Northup as a commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Her nomination was confirmed by the Senate on August 7, 2009, and she served on the Commission until 2012. In 2013 she joined a private law firm as a policy advisor.18


1Betsy Rothstein, “Meet the Northups: The Trials, Triumphs of Political Life,” 19 June 2002, The Hill: 1; Jim Adams, “Election 2006: 3rd Congressional District/Anne Northup,” 2 November 2006, Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY): 1A; “3rd Congressional District Republicans,” 18 May 2008, Lexington Herald Leader (KY): B5.

2Jolie Solomon, “Taking on Tobacco Road,” 22 February 1993, Newsweek: 45; Kentucky state board of elections, “General Election, Nov. 8, 1994 32nd District State Representatives,” 8 November 1994, SiteCollectionDocuments/Election%20Results/1990-1999/1994/94gen_ staterep.txt; “Anne Meagher Northup,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–Present,

3Nancy E. Roman, “Path to Congress Went Past Clinton,” 12 November 1996, Washington Times: A4.

4Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present”; Politics in America, 2006 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2005): 431; Frank E. Lockwood, “Northup, Jordan: Different As Can Be, Report Says Incumbent is Vulnerable, But Will Win,” 22 October 2000, Lexington Herald Leader: A1.

5Congressional Directory, 105th Cong. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1997): 105; Congressional Directory, 106th Cong. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1999): 489; Congressional Directory, 107th Cong. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2001): 392–393; Congressional Directory, 108th Cong. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2003): 388–389; Congressional Directory, 109th Cong. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2005): 94; Politics in America, 2006: 430.

6Successful Reading Research and Instruction Act, H.R. 2192, 105th Cong. (1997); House Committee on Appropriations, Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriation Bill, 1998, 105th Cong., 1st sess., H. Rept. 205 (1997): 78.

7Valerie Strauss, “In Quest for Speed, Books Are Lost on Children,” 24 October 2006, Washington Post: A10.

8“Biography of Anne M. Northup,” official website of Representative Anne Northup, 26 March 2003,

9James Carroll, “Northup Balances Ties to District, Party,” 30 October 2000, Courier-Journal: 1A; Politics in America, 2006: 430; Hearings before the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Member Policy Initiatives and Requests for Highway and Transit in the ISTEA Reauthorization, 105th Cong., 1st sess. (1997): 320; Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, PL 105-178, 112 Stat. 107 (1998); James Carroll, “$58 Million Set Aside for Bridges Over Ohio,” 30 July 2005, Courier-Journal: 1A; Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, PL 109-59, 119 Stat. 1144 (2005).

10Carroll, “Northup Balances Ties to District, Party.”

11A Resolution Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding United States citizens adopting children from the People’s Republic of China, H. Res. 304, 108th Cong. (2003); Politics in America, 2006: 430.

12Economic Security and Worker Assistance Act of 2002, H.R. 622, 107th Cong. (2001); Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, PL 107-16, 115 Stat. 38 (2001).

13Politics in America, 2006: 430; Joint Resolution Disapproving the rule of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration relating to ergonomics, H.J. Res. 35, 107th Cong. (2001); Joint Resolution Providing for congressional disapproval of the rule submitted by the Department of Labor, PL 107-5, 115 Stat. 7 (2001).

14Congressional Record, House, 108th Cong., 2nd sess. (7 October 2004): H8726; American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, PL 108-357, 118 Stat. 1418 (2004).

15Kay Stewart, “U.S. House: Yarmuth Tops Field in 3rd District,” 17 May 2006, Courier-Journal: 1A; Kay Stewart, “Northup, Yarmuth Keep Pushing for Votes in 3rd,” 7 November 2006, Courier-Journal: 3A; “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

16Joseph Gerth, “Election 2007: Beshear, Fletcher Face Off in Fall,” 23 May 2007, Courier-Journal: 1A.

17“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present”; Deborah Yetter, “Yarmuth Beats Northup Easily,” 5 November 2008, Courier-Journal: 6K.

18Congressional Record, Senate, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (7 August 2009): S9092; United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, “Anne Northup,” accessed 26 March 2020, Anne-Northup; “Anne Northup Joins Rudy Giuliani’s Lobbying Firm,” 6 May 2013, Courier-Journal: n.p.

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

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External Research Collections

The Filson Historical Society
Special Collections

Louisville, KY
Papers: 2000, 1 item. Collection includes a campaign flyer from Northup's 2000 race for Congress in Kentucky's 3rd Congressional district. The flyer is a reminder to voters to wake up early and vote.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Anne Meagher Northup" 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 - Appropriations
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