When it comes to Republican Congresswomen in the news, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen isn't a name you hear often, but she has definitely made an impact on the party and the country. Not only is she the most senior ranking Republican female in Congress, but she's the first Republican female to represent the state of Florida in Congress, as well. A Cuban immigrant who has truly paved her own way to live the American dream, she is also the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress. Throughout the twenty years she's spent representing Florida's Eighteenth Congressional District, she has been a driving force for a number of issues and like any prominent politician, has not been without controversy. Here is a look at the life and career of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was born July 15, 1952 in Havana Cuba to businessman, activist and author Enrique Ros and his wife Amanda Adato. At the age of eight, her family was forced to flee Cuba and they moved to Miami, Florida. Ros-Lehtinen received an Associates Degree from Miami-Dade Community College, both her Bachelors and Masters Degrees from Florida International University, and her Doctorate Degree in education from the University of Miami. She eventually took her passion for education to a new level and started and ran Eastern Academy, a private elementary school in south Florida.
According to her website, in 1982, after listening to many of her friends and neighbors complain about the issues facing their lives, she decided to run for the Florida House of Representatives. Her bid for a seat was successful and she went on to serve a second term in 1986. One of her most notable achievements during that time was the creation of the Florida Pre-paid College program which allows parents to lock in college tuition rates.
In 1989, Ros-Lehtinen ran successfully for her current seat in Congress. Even though she is a Republican and holds a number of strong Conservative stances, she often sides with Democrats on the issues of gay rights. She is currently the only Republican member of the LGBT Equality Caucus and believes gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military. She also voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment which would have restricted marriage to be only between a man and a woman. She has also fought to keep oil drilling off the Florida coast (though she does support drilling in ANWR), co-sponsored the Coral Reef Preservation Act, and co-founded the National Marine Sanctuary Caucus.
On many other issues, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen is a staunch Conservative. She was a strong supporter of the war and subsequently the surge in Iraq. Ros-Lehtinen, whose maternal grandparents were Jewish and very active in Cuba's Jewish community, is also a strong supporter of Israel. She supported President Bush's tax cuts, supports free trade, voted against the estate tax, and signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. She has also voted against stem cell research.
Ros-Lehtinen is perhaps one of the most prominent members of the Cuban-American lobby and is a member of the Congressional Cuba Democracy Caucus. Her strong views have led her to lobby against ending the United States embargo against Cuba and she has worked to prevent United States banks from doing business with the Cuban government. She has referred to the country as "that system of godless communism," was instrumental in the failed attempt at allowing Elian Gonzalez to stay in the United States and even attempted to block Jimmy Carter's visit to the country in 2002.
Ros-Lehtinen's humanitarian work doesn't just stop in Cuba. As the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, she has worked on behalf of human rights in a number of other places including Tibet, Iran, Haiti and Darfur, and she has been a loud voice for free trade with Columbia, as well as an advocate for democracy in Iran and Venezuela. She is currently traveling to Honduras, in an effort to convince her colleagues that they must restore aid to the nation.
Upon being re-elected in 2008, she made headlines after hanging up on both President Barack Obama and his chief o staff, Rahm Emanuel who were calling to congratulate her. She has also been accused of wishing for the assassination of Fidel Castro, something she strongly denies. Ros-Lehtinen was recently inducted to the Florida Women's Hall of Fame.
Ros-Lehtinen is married to Dexter Lehtinen. She two daughters, Amanda and Patricia, and two stepchildren, Douglas and Catherine.