Late Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a trail-blazer building connections

East Bay Times

New plaque at Caldecott Tunnel honors Congresswoman’s dedication to consensus building

This month Bay Area motorists traveling west through the expanded Caldecott Tunnel will see a new sign honoring the late Ellen Tauscher, who served as a member of Congress and a top official in the State Department under President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Only a handful of politicians have public buildings or roadways named in their memory, but I authored the Senate Resolution honoring Tauscher with this designation because she was no ordinary politician.

The location is appropriate because, like the tunnel connecting the East Bay to Oakland and San Francisco, Tauscher was a trail blazer who dedicated her life and career to building connections among people.

A New Jersey native and daughter of a grocery store owner, Tauscher graduated from Seton Hall University and, in her mid-twenties, became one of the first women to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. She later founded a service providing pre-employment screening for child care providers and authored the Child Care Sourcebook.

But it was after she moved to California that Tauscher made her mark on our region’s civic life.

Tauscher was first elected to Congress in 1996 to represent what was then the 10th District, covering much of the East Bay. Although she was a Democrat, she won a seat that had more Republicans than Democrats at the time, something that was common 25 years ago but has become increasingly rare in our hyper-polarized world.

“My message throughout this campaign was one of moderation and common sense,” Tauscher said after her victory.  “I want to go back to Washington and stand in the middle ... where most Americans stand.” Two years later, Time Magazine dubbed her blend of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism “Tauscherism.”

Today’s progressives might sneer at Tauscher’s dedication to reaching across the aisle, but she was a good fit for her district, where the voters remain politically diverse today even as elected Republicans have become a thing of the past.

She served on the Armed Services Committee – where she was an effective advocate for the Lawrence Livermore and Sandia defense laboratories in her district – and on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a perch from which she was able to bring funding home for roads and transit in the fast-growing East Bay.

She was also a passionate advocate for women’s reproductive rights, gun control and public education.

Tauscher left Congress in 2009 to serve Obama as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. In that position she brought her role as negotiator to the international stage, helping to set in motion the first major nuclear arms reduction and limitation agreement with Russia in over two decades.

She later chaired the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a group of 28 global retailers, leading efforts that created industry safety standards in response to the fire and collapse of a Bangladeshi garment factory that killed over 1,000 workers.

Tauscher may not have been flashy, and she wasn’t the type of politician who would have thrived in today’s media-driven environment where sharply written Tweets and nasty barbs get more attention than quiet competence.

But as a member of Congress she was focused on her district and constituents, and as a State Department official she was focused on the needs of her country. In everything she did, Tauscher was able to bring people together for the common good.

As we commemorate her life and career by placing her name on the tunnel that unites our region, Tauscher’s legacy is one worth celebrating, and one that those who seek to lead us today should strive to emulate