Born and Raised in the Badger State
Tammy Baldwin was born in Madison, Wisconsin. She was raised by her grandfather David Green, a biochemist at the University of Wisconsin, and her Nana, Doris Green, a talented seamstress who was the head costume designer in the UW Theater Department.
When Tammy was nine years old, she was diagnosed with a serious childhood illness similar to spinal meningitis. She was hospitalized for three months. Her grandparents had health insurance. But they learned during her illness that their family policy did not cover grandchildren. They were faced with the struggle of having to pay out-of-pocket for her hospitalization and follow-up care.
Their struggle didn’t end when Tammy recovered. Since she was labeled as a child with a “preexisting medical condition,” it was nearly impossible for her grandparents to find her any insurance, at any price.
Later in life, this experience would inform Tammy’s work to secure quality healthcare for all and shape her support for the Affordable Care Act. Today, this law protects Wisconsin families from being denied insurance for pre-existing health conditions.
Tammy graduated from Madison West High School and went on to Smith College, where she double-majored in government and mathematics. Between her junior and senior years of college, Tammy’s grandfather passed away. So following her graduation, Tammy came back home to be near her grandmother.
As Tammy’s Nana aged, Tammy became her primary caregiver. It was a charge Tammy was glad to take on — and it was also a challenging responsibility. Tammy saw first-hand the difference Social Security and Medicare can make.
Once again, this experience would later influence Tammy’s commitment in Congress to protect Social Security and Medicare from repeated attempts to dismantle them. It would also inspire Tammy to support family caregivers by sponsoring and passing the RAISE Family Caregivers Act in the Senate.
Beginnings in Public Service
During her time at Smith College, Tammy was involved in student government. She paid attention to the Equal Rights movement on the national level, and the LGBT movement on her campus.
Following graduation, she worked in the Wisconsin governor’s office on pay equity issues before beginning her studies at the University of Wisconsin Law School. It was in 1986, at age 24 that Tammy began her journey into public service.
“I had graduated from college in 1984 and was in my first apartment watching the Democratic National Convention. It’s a one-room efficiency with a mattress on the floor, the pan that my aunt and uncle gave me for graduation on the stove, and my little TV. And I watched Geraldine Ferraro cross the floor to accept the nomination as vice president. I can tell you I got so choked up, because I really believed, seeing that image, I could do anything.”
During her second semester of law school, Tammy was elected to the Dane County Board of Supervisors where she served four terms (1986-1994). During her tenure she made the most of her position, chairing the Dane County Task Force on AIDS at the outset of the epidemic. She also served briefly on the Madison Common Council, filling in an aldermanic vacancy. In 1992, Tammy was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in the 78th District.
The next stop for Tammy was Congress.
The Road to Congress
In 1996, while Tammy was serving in the Wisconsin State Assembly, she became a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It was there that she received her first encouragement to prepare herself for a run for Congress.
“…Wisconsin had never elected a woman to Congress.” Tammy remembers. “And, truth be told, when I closed my eyes, it was really hard to imagine myself serving in Congress, walking into the Capitol every day, working alongside my heroes.”
But Tammy started thinking about it. And in 1997, she decided to run.
It wasn’t an easy race. There were three other Democrats running. Many said it wasn’t Tammy’s turn. That voters weren’t ready. But Tammy pushed forward — and in November, she was successful.
Tammy became the Badger State’s first female member of Congress and the nation’s first openly-gay non-incumbent elected to Congress. But more than that, in her seven terms in the House of Representatives, Tammy distinguished herself as a fierce defender of middle class, hard-working families in Wisconsin.
During her time in the House, she was a lead sponsor of the Buffett Rule, a push to make sure millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share of taxes. She authored a key provision of the Affordable Care Act allowing young adults under the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance.
Fighting for Wisconsin’s workers, Tammy led efforts against unfair trade deals that were responsible for shipping American jobs overseas, and she stood up for Main Street when she cast one of only a handful of votes against repealing the Glass-Steagall Act.
From the House to the Senate
When Senator Herb Kohl announced he would leave the Senate in 2012, Tammy made the decision to run for his seat. Her victory made history once again — she became the first woman Wisconsin had sent to the Senate, and the first openly-gay member ever elected to the Senate. But as Tammy herself put it, she had a bigger goal in mind:
“I didn’t run to make history. I ran to make a difference. A difference in the lives of families struggling to find work and pay their bills. A difference in the lives of students worried about debt. And seniors worried about their retirement security. A difference in the lives of veterans who fought for us and need someone fighting for them and their families. A difference in the lives of entrepreneurs trying to build a business and working people trying to build some economic security.”
In the Senate, Tammy has continued her fight for an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthiest Americans. She’s introduced measures to close the carried interest tax loophole and stop Wall Street millionaires from paying lower tax rates than teachers, nurses, and factory workers.
Tammy has also worked to strengthen the “Made in Wisconsin” economy by leading the Senate’s Manufacturing Jobs for America campaign to pass legislation to help manufacturers grow and create jobs.
As a firm believer that higher education is the surest pathway to the middle class, Tammy has spearheaded efforts to reduce crippling student loan payments and make higher education more affordable for all Americans.
She sponsored a measure that would allow students to refinance their student loans. She helped save the federal Perkins loan program, which provides financial assistance to predominantly low-income students. And she is the author of the America’s College Promise Act, which would provide students two years of tuition-free technical or community college.
Tammy currently serves on the Senate Budget Committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.