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The Nation

Loretta and Linda Sanchez Star in House's First Sister Act

January 08, 2003|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — On Day One as the first sisters in Congress, California Reps. Linda and Loretta Sanchez faced a tougher quandary than their positions on key domestic and foreign issues.

The pressing question: Can they live together?

The Sanchez sisters, sworn in Tuesday to the 108th Congress, are Democrats who are expected to vote alike on many issues.

But as they search for a place to share near Capitol Hill, they must confront their different personalities.

Loretta is a morning person. Linda is a night owl. Loretta is fastidious, organizing her shoes by color and heel size.

Linda is, shall we say, carefree about where she kicks off her shoes.

They'll need two bedrooms, two baths -- and "preferably on different floors or opposite ends," Linda quipped.

The sisters were among the celebrities of the day, drawing the kind of media attention that politicians with many more years of service would die for.

A few hours after a joint appearance on the ABC show "Good Morning America," the sisters stood side-by-side to take the oath of office on the House floor as their 65-year-old mother, Maria, and other family members looked on from the gallery.

Joining the sisters in the House are another pair of siblings, Rep Lincoln Diaz-Balart and his brother, Mario, both Republicans from Florida.

But while there have been brothers in Congress before, there had never been sisters.

Linda, 33, is a former labor lawyer who was elected -- with Loretta's help -- in November to a new, heavily Latino district in southeastern Los Angeles.

Loretta, who celebrated her 43rd birthday Tuesday, was first elected to her Orange County district in a stunning upset over Republican incumbent Robert K. Dornan in 1996.

Loretta plans to watch out for her little sister. But Linda is her own person "and always has been," said her big sister.

Asked whether she has given Linda any advice, Loretta said, "Plenty."

"Does she take it?" Loretta added, "Nooooo."

Said Linda: "I don't pretend that I can influence her vote, and I don't expect her to try and influence mine."

Loretta said she has advised her sister to try to find ways to work with Republicans, who control the House and Senate.

Linda said her sister has already been helpful, pointing out Congress' movers and shakers.

Loretta also offered another helpful piece of advice: "Wear comfortable shoes," Linda said.

On policy, "generally, we agree on things," Linda said. Both were critical Tuesday of President Bush's proposed economic stimulus plan, for example.

"But there are always gradations of how strongly or how passionately you feel about certain issues," Linda added, saying she tended to be "more progressive" than her sister.

Loretta comes from a business background and her district is more conservative than Linda's.

Linda said she sees her election and that of her sister as a "historic milestone, and hopefully, a sign of things to come for women in politics."

But she also complained that female office holders are judged by a harsher standard.

She said that some of her male colleagues wear "awful suits" and "look like they combed their hair with a fork and nobody says anything about their appearance."

"But if a female in Congress ever showed up looking like that, you can bet that there would be comments made about her," she added.

Loretta, meanwhile, said her sister has already benefited from her celebrity status.

"Almost everybody in the chamber knows who she is," something that most freshmen cannot boast, Loretta said.

Among those attending the swearing-in Tuesday was yet another Sanchez sister, Martha Sanchez-Cannady. Although she has no plans to run for Congress -- she lives in the district of Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) -- she added: "Never say never."

*

Congressional milestones for women:

The 108th Congress, which began its session on Tuesday, includes:

The most female senators: 14 (up from 13 in the 107th Congress).*

The first woman nominated by a party for House speaker: Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).

The first sisters to serve in Congress: Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana) and Linda Sanchez (D-Lakewood).

The first daughter to succeed a father in the Senate: Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), appointed by Gov. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska) to finish his term.

* The House has 59 female members, down from a record 60 in the 107th Congress.

Source: Times staff writer

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