A former Oregon public schoolteacher, Darlene Hooley began a long climb in state politics in the 1970s, inspired initially by defective equipment at a local playground. Hooley served in city, county, and state government for 20 years before winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996. During her tenure in Congress, Hooley focused on identity theft and data security, education funding, affordable health care and prescription drug coverage, the National Guard, and veterans’ health care.
Darlene Hooley was born Darlene Olson on April 4, 1939, on a homesteaded farm near Williston, North Dakota, to Clarence Alvin and Alyce Rogers Olson. The farm lacked running water and electricity, and when the local school closed, her parents sent Hooley to live with an aunt in order to receive an education.1 When Hooley was eight years old, her family moved to Salem, Oregon; her father, Clarence, divided his time between his family in Oregon and the family farm in North Dakota. She would later remark on her father’s perseverance and her mother’s optimism.2 From an early age, Hooley was determined to go to college, and she followed an older sister to California’s Pasadena Nazarene College in 1957. Two years later, Hooley transferred to Oregon State University in Corvallis where she graduated in 1961. She began teaching high-school reading, music, and physical education in Oregon. Later she pursued postgraduate work at Oregon State University and Portland State University. In June 1965, she married John Hooley, a fellow teacher, and they raised two children: Chad and Erin. The marriage ended in divorce in 1997.3
Hooley became involved in politics when her son fell off a swing in a public park and landed on hard asphalt. The lack of a response by city authorities to her concerns over the playground equipment inspired Hooley to manage a friend’s successful mayoral campaign. The new mayor, in turn, appointed Hooley to the city board that controlled parks and recreation.4 In 1976 Hooley was the first woman elected to the West Linn city council. “Things don’t happen easily,” she said about the process of affecting change. “It is your willingness to just keep pushing, and working on it, and working on it.”5 Hooley won a seat in the state house of representatives in 1980, where she served until 1987. In the legislature, she chaired the energy and environment committee where she helped pass energy conservation measures, recycling legislation, and a rewrite of land-use laws. She focused on establishing public kindergarten, passing pay equity laws, and reforming the state’s welfare system.6 By the late 1980s, Hooley was ready to retire from public service when she was presented with the opportunity to become a Clackamas County commissioner. She accepted an appointment in 1987, becoming the first woman member of the Clackamas County commission—which, unlike her spot in the state legislature, was a paid full-time position.7
In 1996 Hooley received a phone call from Vice President Albert Arnold Gore Jr. who said that she should challenge the incumbent first-term congressman, Jim Bunn.8 The district covered much of the northern Willamette Valley from West Linn in the north to the state capital, Salem, and the university town of Corvallis to the south. With backing from major women’s political action committees such as EMILY’s List, Hooley prevailed in the Democratic primary with 51 percent of the vote.9 In the general election, she decided to link Bunn closely to Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and the House GOP’s ambitious agenda called the “Contract with America” in order to paint Bunn as too conservative for the district.10 On Election Day, Hooley defeated Bunn by a 51-to-46 percent margin in a race with two independent candidates. In her subsequent five re-elections, Hooley won by margins of between 53 and 57 percent of the vote.11
During orientation for newly elected House Members in December 1996, Hooley was elected Democratic freshman class president.12 As class president, Hooley had a direct line to party leadership and helped communicate the needs and goals of the new lawmakers—a media and public-facing responsibility, and a unique role for Hooley who at first worked without a press secretary on her staff.13
She received seats on the Banking and Financial Services Committee (later renamed Financial Services) and the Science Committee (later renamed Science and Technology). In the 106th Congress (1999–2001), Hooley transferred from the Science Committee to serve a rotation on the influential Budget Committee; after being term limited in the 109th Congress (2005–2007) Hooley returned to the Science Committee. She also served two terms on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee before receiving a coveted position on the Energy and Commerce Committee in the 110th Congress (2007–2009).14 During the 110th Congress, she also returned to the Budget Committee.15
Hooley’s legislative agenda developed from her constituent services. She heard the story of a man whose credit card had been stolen and the complications that arose after the thief ran up significant debt on his account. Her constituent could not rent an apartment, buy a car, or further his education. Hooley was appalled, “his whole life, a young man’s life, was impacted by somebody stealing his credit card, his identity.”16 She introduced her first bill, the Identity Theft Prevention Act of 2000, during the 106th Congress.17 Hooley introduced similar measures over the next two Congresses, and her bill was enacted as part of a large financial services package in 2003.18 The legislation allowed credit card holders to see their credit reports from all of the major credit bureaus annually at no cost.19
In 2002 Hooley voted against the authorization of the use of military force in Iraq.20 During the occupation of Iraq, she was a vocal advocate for the proper training and equipping of troops serving overseas and worked to correct inequities between the active duty and National Guard. As the Ranking Member of the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Hooley began looking for ways to better protect members of the armed forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Brain injury was the number one injury of this war,” she recalled. “And we had better helmets they could have had instead of the helmets they wore.”21
On February 7, 2008, Hooley announced her retirement from the House, capping 32 years of public service. “At some point in everybody’s life you have to decide, how much longer do I want to do this?” she said. “It’s time to move on.”22 Despite the demanding pace in Congress, her long trips back home every weekend, and the constant demand to raise campaign funding, “I loved my time here,” Hooley said of Congress. “I love serving the people of Oregon.”23 Hooley’s term expired at the conclusion of the 110th Congress on January 3, 2009.
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
[ Top ]