In 2006 Carol Shea-Porter won her first elected office when she captured a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from New Hampshire. Shea-Porter, a former social worker, was also the first woman to represent the Granite State in Congress. Her independently minded district was often a bellwether for national politics, and Shea-Porter ended up trading the seat in Congress with a political rival back and forth—the district flipped so often that one observer called it a “ping pong ball.”1 In the 113th Congress (2013–2015), Shea-Porter and her New Hampshire colleagues in the House and Senate made history as the first all-female congressional delegation.
Carol Shea-Porter was born Carol Shea in Brooklyn, New York, on December 2, 1952, one of seven children to William, a lawyer, and Margaret (Peggy), an antique appraiser. Her extended family had deep roots in New Hampshire—her mother was a descendent of John Stark, the general who coined the phrase that would become New Hampshire’s state motto, “Live Free or Die”—and the family moved from New York to Durham, New Hampshire, when Shea-Porter was a teenager.2 She graduated from Durham’s Oyster River High School before entering the University of New Hampshire, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social services in 1975 and a master’s in public administration in 1979.3 She and her husband, Gene Porter, an Army officer, moved around the country: first to Colorado where she worked for an Army medical center, then briefly to New Orleans where she directed senior centers, before spending 15 years in the Washington, DC, area where she continued providing services to senior citizens; she also taught political science and history at a community college.4 After returning to New Hampshire in 2001, Shea-Porter became active in local politics serving as chair of the Rochester City Democrats. Shea-Porter and her husband have a son and a daughter.5
In 2006, after two volunteer trips to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Shea-Porter concluded that the “government had abandoned people” and her experience motivated her to run for the U.S. House of Representatives.6 Despite having never run for office at any level, Shea-Porter defeated four other candidates in the Democratic primary.7 In the general election, she faced the two-term House Republican Representative Jeb Bradley. The traditionally Republican district included greater Manchester and stretched east to Portsmouth and north to Laconia and Lake Winnipesaukee.8 With strong grassroots support, Shea-Porter made inroads with the region’s voters. “We could hear the rumbling on the ground, and that’s why we never, never thought we could lose,” she recalled. “It’s easier if you get to run those big ads or whatever. But we worked relentlessly, relentlessly night after night after night.”9 Shea- Porter opposed the war in Iraq and the policies of President George W. Bush. In 2005 she was escorted out of a New Hampshire town hall event hosted by the President while wearing a “Turn your back on Bush” t-shirt.10 In a wave election that saw Democrats capture the House majority, Shea-Porter defeated Bradley with 51 percent in 2006. In her rematch against Bradley in 2008, Shea-Porter won by a similar margin.11
In 2010, amid a surge of activity in the Republican grassroots, Shea-Porter faced Manchester’s Republican mayor Frank Guinta in the general election.12 Shea-Porter’s votes for both the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus package meant to shore up the economy after the financial crisis figured prominently in the race.13 On Election Day, Shea-Porter lost to Guinta after taking 42 percent of the vote. She went on to defeat Guinta in the 2012 election, lost to him again in 2014, and defeated him once more in 2016. The constant back and forth led a political analyst to call it “the timeshare district.”14 “It’s not so much that voters are going to prefer one or the other, or have fallen in love with one candidate or the other,” a New Hampshire observer noted. “Republicans are just going to vote for Guinta and Democrats are going to vote for Shea-Porter, and whichever party is able to turn out more of its supporters wins.”15 In 2012, Shea-Porter joined Representative Ann McLane Kuster and Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte as part of the first ever all-female state delegation in Congress.
Shea-Porter served on the Armed Services Committee for all five of her terms in the House. She had a seat on the Committee on Education and Labor in the 110th and 111th Congresses (2007–2011) and sat on the renamed Education and the Workforce Committee in the 115th Congress (2017–2019). She also served on the Natural Resources Committee in the 111th and 113th Congresses (2009–2011, 2013–2015).16
From her seat on Armed Services early in her career, she balanced her opposition to the Iraq War with advocating support for veterans and their families. In 2009 Shea-Porter was one of 32 Democrats who opposed a bill allocating supplemental funds to further the American military presence in Afghanistan.17 She introduced a bill that same year assuring returning veterans that they would receive health care through the Veterans’ Affairs Administration. Throughout her career in Congress, she sought a full-service hospital for veterans in her district; New Hampshire was the only state without such a facility.18 Though her Veterans Health Equity Act in the 111th Congress did not become law, the Veteran’s Administration in New Hampshire began contracting through a local Concord hospital to meet the demands of local veterans.19
In 2010 Shea-Porter added several amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act to protect military servicepeople and their families. These included preventing increases to military health insurance copayments, requiring post-traumatic stress disorder screening for high-risk military occupations, providing additional aid to single military parents on deployment, and streamlining the ability to hold military contractors accountable for negligent behavior or products that endangered servicemen and women.20 Shea-Porter also pushed for tighter regulations on military contractors and for investigations into inferior equipment provided by contractors that resulted in the deaths of deployed personnel. “It’s our obligation to figure out what went wrong and make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” she said.21
During negotiations over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, Shea-Porter supported a government-run public health care option.22 She believed preventative care bolstered by the ACA would keep long-term costs down and condemned efforts to privatize Medicare.23 But Shea-Porter also criticized officials in President Barack Obama’s administration for what she deemed an “ill-fated rollout” of the law in late 2013. Of particular concern was that New Hampshire had only one insurer available on the state health care exchange; in 2015, Shea-Porter worked to secure a second insurer.24
In the 115th Congress, Shea-Porter submitted the Medicare You Can Opt Into Act, allowing Americans who were not yet old enough to access the program to buy into the public-run system in lieu of private insurance. “Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, our national uninsured rate is the lowest on record,” she announced. “Now it’s time to take the next step toward universal health care.” She argued that private insurers charged “too much for too little,” and that being forced to compete with Medicare would improve quality of care and lower costs. Her bill, however, did not make it out of the Ways and Means Committee.25
Shea-Porter was an advocate for research into better treatments for asthma, as well. In 2010 she cofounded the bipartisan Congressional Allergy and Asthma Caucus and, in 2017, she and co-chairs Representatives Eliot Lance Engel of New York and Gregg Harper of Mississippi, proposed a resolution to make the month of May Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month.26
Shea-Porter also worked on issues related to personal and data privacy. In June 2009, she introduced a bill with Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz to address possible invasions of privacy brought on by whole-body imaging machines, which take detailed scans of passengers at airports.27 In 2014 Shea-Porter introduced the Personal Data Privacy and Security Act to make sure consumers were notified in a timely manner when their personal information had been compromised. She also sponsored a bill that prevented employers from requiring employees disclose personal passwords.28
In October 2017, Shea-Porter announced she would not run for re-election in 2018. “The time has come in my life to pause and decide on a different path,” she explained, adding “I felt the tug of family at our reunion on Independence Day, and I have continued to feel it.”29
1Almanac of American Politics, 2018 (Arlington, VA: Columbia Books & Information Services, 2017): 1192.
2Almanac of American Politics, 2018: 1192; Politics in America, 2014 (Washington, DC: CQ-Roll Call, Inc., 2013): 616.
3Beverly Wang, “Carol Shea-Porter’s Unusual Journey to U.S. Congress,” 8 November 2006, Associated Press.
4Wang, “Carol Shea-Porter’s Unusual Journey to U.S. Congress.”
5Almanac of American Politics, 2018: 1192.
6Almanac of American Politics, 2008 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group, 2007): 953; Politics in America, 2008 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2007): 631.
7Almanac of American Politics, 2008: 631; Almanac of American Politics, 2018: 1193.
8Almanac of American Politics, 2010 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group, 2009): 1039.
9Rick Klein, “A Win From the Blue,” 15 November 2006, Boston Globe: A1.
10Almanac of American Politics, 2008: 953.
11Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
12Almanac of American Politics, 2018: 1194; Almanac of American Politics, 2014 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013): 1063; Politics in America, 2014: 616; James Pindell, “We Have to Stop Meeting Like This . . . .,” 9 October 2016, Boston Globe: B1.
13Kathy McCormack, “NH Support for GOP Candidates Echoes National Mood,” 2 November 2010, Associated Press; “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
14Pindell, “We Have to Stop Meeting Like This....”
15Holly Ramer, “For Shea-Porter and Guinta, Battle No. 3,” 15 September 2014, Associated Press.
16Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Women Members’ Committee Assignments (Standing, Joint, Select) in the U.S. House, 1917–Present.”
17Kevin Landrigan, “Lynch May Have Some Competition for His Job,” 11 October 2009, The Telegraph (Nashua, NH): n.p.
18Politics in America, 2010 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2009): 635.
19Veterans Health Equity Act, H.R.190, 111th Cong. (2009); U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “About the VAMC Manchester, New Hampshire,” accessed 27 September 2019, https://www.manchester.va.gov/about/index.asp.
20“Shea-Porter Provisions Included in National Defense Authorization Act,” official website of Representative Carol Shea-Porter, press release, 20 May 2010, https://web.archive.org/web/20100608224920/http://www.shea-porter. house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=678&Itemid=67.
21John DiStaso, “Shea-Porter Pressures Pentagon,” 20 April 2009, Manchester Union Leader (NH): 1.
22Politics in America, 2014: 616.
23Holly Ramer, “Guinta, Shea-Porter Debate Jobs, Medicare,” 10 October 2012, Associated Press.
24Kevin Landrigan, “Shea-Porter Calls for Resignations Over Law’s Rollout,” 6 February 2014, The Telegraph: n.p.
25Medicare You Can Opt Into Act of 2017, H.R. 2065, 115th Cong (2017); “Shea-Porter Introduces Medicare You Can Opt Into Act of 2017,” press release, 6 April 2017, Targeted News Service.
26Expressing Support for designation of May as “National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month,” H. Res. 304, 115th Cong. (2017); “Shea-Porter Hosts Congressional Asthma and Allergies Briefing,” official website of Representative Carol Shea-Porter, press release, 13 January 2014, https://web.archive.org/web/20140912201930/http://shea-porter.house.gov/mediacenter/press-releases/photo-shea-porter-hosts-congressional-asthma-andallergies-briefing.
27Almanac of American Politics, 2010: 1039; Beth LaMontagne Hall, “Shea-Porter: Privacy Trumps Security,” 7 January 2010, Manchester Union Leader: A1.
28Personal Data Privacy and Security Act of 2014, H.R. 3990, 113th Cong. (2014); “Shea-Porter Seeks to Help Consumers with Data Breach Notification,” 12 February 2014, Manchester Union Leader: B2.
29James Pindell, “N.H. Representative Carol Shea-Porter Unexpectedly Announces She’ll Retire,” 6 October 2017, Boston Globe: n.p.; Andrew Taylor, “New Hampshire Democratic Rep. Shea-Porter to Retire,” 6 October 2017, Associated Press.