Women of the U.S. Senate win Allegheny College's 'civility' award

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WASHINGTON -- They are oil-drilling proponents and staunch environmental defenders. They are opponents of abortion and believers in women's right to choose.

Some of them helped shepherd the federal Affordable Care Act through Congress and others want nothing more than to repeal it. They are staunch conservatives and liberal firebrands. They come from Maine and Alaska, and 15 states in between. One is a former governor, while another famously described herself as just "a mom in tennis shoes."

Among them are a breast cancer survivor, an author of political thrillers, a former Sunday school teacher and a newlywed whose engagement party was hosted by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

These are the diverse women of the U.S. Senate who on Thursday shared in recognition, not of what they achieved but of how they did it -- civilly. The 20 are joint winners of Allegheny College's third annual Prize for Civility in Public Life.

College president James H. Mullen awarded the prize Thursday morning at the National Press Club in Washington, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge offered remarks. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., the longest serving women in their caucuses, accepted the award on behalf of their colleagues, each of whom will receive a certificate.

"With a historic number of 20 Senate women and with a historic amount of power chairing eight committees, we have continued to create a zone of civility to get the job done. Whether it's breaking budget gridlock, passing the farm bill or passing a bill making sure America has clean water infrastructure, we are making real change," Ms. Mikulski said. "The Senate women know it's not about gender; it's about having an agenda."

It has been clear since October that the Senate women should be serious contenders for the annual prize, Mr. Mullen said. That's when their efforts helped end a 16-day government shutdown that was hurting the economy and the country's morale.

Ms. Collins and Ms. Mikulski led the charge on the Senate floor in early October, the day after they and several female colleagues of both parties met to work toward compromise that would appease Democrats by extending the debt ceiling and Republicans by tweaking implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

"They said, 'Enough of the bickering. It's time for us to do the nation's business and do it in a civil manner,' " Mr. Mullen recalled. "We hope it's a moment that will remind all of us -- and particularly young people -- that we can do the nation's business in a civil manner, and that politics is a noble engagement."

For Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., this was the second civility prize to hang on her wall. Last year, she and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., were selected for the prize to honor their ability to remain civil even as they held steadfastly to opposing views on gun control and other issues.

The inaugural prize went to David Brooks and Mark Shields, co-hosts of PBS's "NewsHour."

Allegheny College, located in Meadville, Crawford County, created the prize in 2011 to highlight public figures who advance civility.

Ms. Mikulski said the bonds have been fortified by regular dinners the women senators have, often at each others' homes. There are three rules: no staff, no memos and no leaks.

"We said, 'Why can't we as women establish a zone of civility where we come together out of friendship?'" Ms. Mikulski told the 50 college trustees, alumni and students in the audience.

"We said, 'Let's be courteous with one another. Let's come together out of mutual respect and then let's try to change the tone and try to change the tide."

Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets. First Published February 27, 2014 11:07 AM

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