When US Rep Julia Brownley (D-Thousand Oaks) took the oath of office six months ago, she was excited about becoming a new member of the 113th Congress but also understood the great responsibility she had undertaken.
Having served six years in the California Assembly, Brownley was familiar with the legislative process, so the learning curve for the Washington, D.C. job wasn’t as steep as might be expected.
The 60-year-old congresswoman quickly went to work.
In her first month in office, the newly minted lawmaker introduced her first bill—one that would guarantee funding for veterans’ healthcare. To date, she has sponsored four bills and eight legislative amendments.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to represent the 26th District,” Brownley said, but added, “I can’t imagine being here without the experiences I had in Sacramento.”
Oak Park resident Bette Empol worked on Brownley’s 2012 congressional campaign and said she’s pleased so far with her progress.
“She listens to her constituents and votes with their interest in mind,” Empol said.
While the transition from Sacramento to Capitol Hill has been mostly smooth, Brownley said, she had to get used to the fact that Democrats in Washington don’t hold the same sway as they do in Sacramento.
“Unlike the state Legislature, the Democrats are the minority in the House and don’t have opportunities to chair committees,” Brownley said.
“Additionally, there are 80 members in the Assembly, and I knew them all very well. Here, there are 87 in my freshmen class alone, out of 435 representatives.”
Brownley said her biggest eye-opener is the gridlock in Washington. She was already aware of the Legislature’s penchant for dysfunction and said that seeing the lack of cooperation first-hand was “disheartening.”
Like many legislators, her goal is to find out how to work across the aisle.
A Brownley resolution supporting the Joining Forces Initiative, which helps veterans transfer military skills to civilian jobs, passed the House with broad bipartisan support as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014.
She also is involved with “No Labels,” a political organization that encourages Republicans and Democrats leave their party affiliation at the door, and try to find common ground.
As congresswoman, Brownley has begun addressing a wide range of issues in the communities she serves.
In eastern Ventura County, she said she’s trying to resolve questions about FEMA flood map designations, dredging and levee issues, work opportunities for students, and to how to help businesses create jobs.
Brownley also assisted the Ventura County Transportation Commission in securing a grant to expand bus service in Moorpark and Thousand Oaks.
Her work on the Science, Space and Technology Committee, which oversees investment in research and development, has implications for a number of industries countywide.
Education remains a passion for Brownley, who chaired the Education Committee of the California Assembly.
As a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill, Brownley says her highest priority is ending the backlog of veterans’ healthcare claims.
“It’s our obligation to the men and women who have risked their lives for our country to receive their benefits in a timely manner,” she said.
Brownley has co-sponsored a package of 10 bills aimed to expedite the help for veterans. She requested President Obama’s support and has asked Under Secretary General Alison Hickey of the Veterans Administration for matching funds for California’s Joint Claims Initiative, a program that helps regional VA offices reduce their backlog of medical claims.
Brownley also remains a staunch supporter of gay marriage. Regarding the recent high court ruling striking down a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, “The Supreme Court . . . reaffirmed our country’s promise to the American people that all are equal under the law. This is a joyous moment for our nation as it moves one step closer to realizing our Constitution’s promise of equality for every American, no matter who they love,” Brownley said in a statement.
Former state Sen. Tony Strickland, the Congresswoman’s challenger in the 2012 election, reportedly plans a rematch next year. Brownley said. For now, she is focused on her work and has not given much thought to who her 2014 opponent will be.
“When the time comes, I’ll make my case to the voters.”