DANNER, Patsy Ann (Pat)

DANNER, Patsy Ann (Pat)
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1934–

Biography

Elected to the U.S. House by unseating an eight–term incumbent, Patsy Danner carved out a reputation as a moderate, independent Democrat. Congresswoman Danner used her seat on the Public Works and Transportation Committee to tend to aviation interests in her district. As a member of the International Relations Committee, she criticized American troop commitments in the Balkans and a series of free trade agreements favored by the William J. Clinton administration in the 1990s.

Patsy Ann "Pat" Berrer was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 13, 1934, daughter of Henry Joseph Berrer and Catherine Shaheen Berrer. She studied at Hannibal–LaGrange College for one year, in 1952, but did not graduate with a degree. Patsy Berrer married Lavon Danner, and together they had four children—Stephen, Shavonne, Shane, and Stephanie—but were later divorced. In 1982, Danner remarried to C. Markt Meyer, a retired airline pilot. Patsy Danner graduated with a B.A. in political science from Northeast Missouri State University in 1972.

Danner became involved in Missouri politics during the 1970s. From 1970 to 1972, she served as the vice chair for the Congressional District Democratic Committee in northeast Missouri and on the Macon County Democratic Committee. From 1973 to 1976, she acted as the chief district aide to U.S. Representative Jerry Litton. A charismatic favorite son from north–central Missouri, Litton was killed in a plane crash the night he secured the Democratic nomination from Missouri for the U.S. Senate in 1976. Danner lost in the Democratic primary to fill Litton's seat, which represented a large area of northwestern Missouri. During the James Earl "Jimmy" Carter administration, she served in a sub–Cabinet post as co–chair of the Ozarks Regional Commission from 1977 to 1981; she was the first woman to chair a regional commission. In 1983, she won election to the Missouri state senate, where she served for a decade. She eventually chaired the transportation committee and was vice chair of the education committee. In 1991, Danner's son, Steve, joined her in the Missouri senate. At the time, they were the only mother–son combination in a single legislature in the country. "I think both of us have the same philosophy," she said, "we serve our constituents first."1

In 1992, Pat Danner announced her candidacy for the Democratic primary in the U.S. House district her former boss, Representative Litton, once represented, encompassing northwest Missouri and the Kansas City suburbs. She won the Democratic Party's backing to face eight–term Republican incumbent Tom Coleman, a protégé of one–time Missouri Attorney General (and later U.S. Senator) John Danforth, who had won the general election in 1976 to succeed Litton. For years, Coleman had relatively little competition. Then, in 1990, his challenger, an unknown farmer, spent virtually no money and captured 48 percent of the vote. Constituents, particularly farmers, believed that Coleman, a lawyer who was the Ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee—a key panel for the district's predominantly rural economy—had lost touch with his district. In an anti–incumbent year, Danner tapped into that sentiment. She questioned Coleman's support for a $35,000 congressional pay raise and for having one of the House's highest mailing budgets at taxpayer expense. Danner also suggested that Coleman had done little to help constituents who had suffered from the 1991–1992 recession. Coleman touted his seniority on the Agriculture Committee, appealing to voters that he could exercise greater influence than Danner. He also sought to turn the insider label back on Danner by running television commercials which portrayed the state senate veteran as a lifetime politician. But Danner, who had assembled her own "Farmers for Danner" group, struck a chord with agricultural interests: "I know what it's like to lose a crop and I know what it's like to make a crop," Danner said during a debate with Coleman. She won the election with 55 percent of the vote. In her victory speech, Danner invoked Litton's memory: "There never will be another Jerry Litton, but I'll try my best to be the kind of Congressman for this district that he was."2 In her three subsequent re–election campaigns, Danner steadily added to her margins of victory: 66 percent in 1994, 68 percent in 1996, and 71 percent in 1998.

When Danner took her seat in the 103rd Congress (1993–1995), she hoped to use her close connection to Majority Leader Dick Gephardt of St. Louis to win a seat on the Appropriations Committee and the Public Works and Transportation Committee. Though unable to secure the plum Appropriations assignment, she received a Public Works and Transportation (later renamed Transportation and Infrastructure) post and an assignment to the Small Business Committee. She remained on Transportation and Infrastructure for her four terms of House service, with seats on the Aviation and Ground Transportation Subcommittees. She resigned the Small Business assignment after her first term and received a seat on the International Relations Committee in the 105th and 106th Congresses (1997–2001). On International Relations, Danner served on the Subcommittee for International Economic Policy and Trade with oversight important to the farm constituency in her district.

Congresswoman Danner emerged as a moderate–to–conservative Democrat in the House. As a freshman, she voted in favor of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 but opposed a nationalized health care system. Danner also voted against the Clinton administration's 1993 budget and economic stimulus package, both of which she had supported in their early stages. An abortion opponent during her years in the Missouri legislature, Danner moderated her stance somewhat as a Member of the U.S. House, voting against a bill requiring parental notification by minors; she opposed another measure to allow federally financed abortions. Danner maintained that federal funds could only be made available in the case of rape, incest, or dire threat to the mother's life. She voted against the Brady Handgun Bill, which required a five–day waiting period for the purchase of handguns. Danner also introduced a bill that would have given states the authority to regulate out–of–state shipments of waste, a function exclusively under federal control at the time.3 In 1994, also as a freshman, she dropped out of the Congressional Women's Caucus, claiming that it was not worth the investment of the membership fee. However, it also appeared that she was increasingly at loggerheads with the group's advocacy of abortion rights.4

Much of her legislative work focused on the needs of her district. In 1993 massive flooding in the Midwest affected many of her constituents. She joined with Members of her state delegation and Illinois lawmakers to secure emergency relief. She also helped pass a measure which allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to repair damaged levees that had not previously been under their mandate. Danner again got federal relief for Missouri farmers during 1997 floods. In the 105th Congress, from her seat on the Transportation Committee, Danner helped steer federal funding into her district for several major highway upgrades.5 Since that committee also had some jurisdiction over aviation issues, Danner worked to help keep Trans World Airlines operating in Missouri, including its aircraft maintenance location near Kansas City and hub operation in St. Louis.

From her International Relations seat, Danner was a consistent critic of the Clinton administration's foreign policy, particularly its decision to send in U.S. troops for peacekeeping duty in the Balkans. In 1995, she took to the House Floor to oppose a troop deployment in Bosnia, noting she had "grave reservations" about placing U.S. peacekeepers in harm's way when neither side in the civil war had yet accepted the terms of a ceasefire.6 In 1999, when the Clinton administration inserted American troops as peacekeepers in Kosovo, Danner loudly objected, citing the "human" costs and impact on military families of extended tours of duty in Bosnia. Noting that the original commitment in Bosnia in 1995 was estimated at one year and costing $1 billion, Danner complained that the mission was into its fourth year at a price tag of more than $10 billion. "There is no reason to believe that a mission in Kosovo would not drag on indefinitely with a high possibility of American casualties," she told colleagues.7 As with the administration's use of the military, Danner often dissented on trade and international economic policy. In 1993, she voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement and, later, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade accord. She also opposed the Clinton administration's permanent normalization of trade relations with China in 2000.

After being diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 1999 and receiving treatment, Danner announced in May 2000 that she would not seek re–election to a fifth term.8 Weeks before she announced her intention to retire, Danner took to the House Floor to speak on behalf of the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act of 2000, a bill she cosponsored with Republican Sue Myrick of North Carolina, who also had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. The legislation, which eventually passed the House, expanded coverage for low–income women. Danner noted that she had been lucky to discover the disease early through checkups as an insured patient. "Unfortunately, there are many women who do not have the ability to pay for treatment after being diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer," she told colleagues. "This is a most tragic situation that this legislation seeks to address."9 Her son, Steve, was considered an early favorite to replace her, but he did not win the Democratic primary in August 2000. Representative Danner returned to Kansas City after leaving Congress in January 2001.

Footnotes

1Joseph Coleman, "Mother and Son Both in State Senate," 21 January 1991, Associated Press; Virginia Young, "Family Ties: Steve Danner Joins Mother, Sen. At Danner, in the Only Mother–Son Duo in a State Senate," 18 November 1990, St. Louis Post–Dispatch: 12D.

2J. Duncan Moore, "New Blood in Missouri's 6th District," 9 November 1992, St. Louis Post–Dispatch: 3B.

3Congressional Record, House, 103rd Cong., 1st sess. (23 February 1993): 423.

4Cited in Politics in America, 1996 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc. 1995): 756–757.

5Politics in America, 2002 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2001): 790–791; Congressional Record, House, 103rd Cong., 1st sess. (13 July 1993): 4515.

6Congressional Record, House, 104th Cong., 1st sess. (19 December 1995): 2400.

7Congressional Record, House, 106th Cong., 1st sess. (11 March 1989): 1179.

8Steve Kraske, "Rep. Danner Decides She Won't Run Again," 23 May 2000, Kansas City Star: A1; Robert Schlesinger and Melanie Fonder, "In Reversal, Danner Will Not Seek Reelection," 24 May 2000, The Hill: 20; Mary Lynn F. Jones, "For Congressional Families, Breast Cancer Is No Statistic," 31 May 2000, Roll Call: 1.

9For Danner's remarks on the "Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act of 2000," see the Congressional Record, House, 106th Cong., 2nd sess. (9 May 2000): 2687.

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

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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Patsy Ann Danner" 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 - International Relations
  • House Committee - Public Works and Transportation
  • House Committee - Small Business
  • House Committee - Transportation and Infrastructure
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