Ros-Lehtinen’s tenure as first Hispanic woman to serve in Congress is no joke

From a special election to thinking a call from Obama was a prank, to a distinguished career, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will forever be a historic figure in politics

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27th) receives the 2018 Legacy Award at the 41st Annual Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Awards Gala on September 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Shannon Finney/WireImage) (Shannon Finney, 2018 Shannon Finney)

It took a special candidate to win a special election, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen proved to be just that in 1989 to forever hold a unique distinction.

In 1989, a special election was held for a U.S. House of Representatives seat after Florida Rep. Claude Pepper passed away from stomach cancer.

Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American who started off her career as a teacher before being elected to the Florida State House of Representatives, when up against Gerald Richman in the election.

Never before had a Hispanic woman been elected to Congress, but that changed when Ros-Lehtinen defeated Gerald Richman by a 53% to 47% margin in the general election.

The election turned out to be the start of a lengthy tenure in Washington, D.C.

Ros-Lehtinen ended up serving 15 terms before deciding not to run for re-election in 2018.

Ros-Lehtinen might be best known for what turned out to be a humorous misunderstanding.

After winning a reelection bid in 2008, Ros-Lehtinen and her office repeatedly hung up on Barack Obama, who at the time was the President-elect and was calling to congratulate Ros-Lehtinen on her victory.

However, Ros-Lehtinen thought it was a prank and it wasn’t really Obama.

Her office then started fielding angry phone calls wondering why she disrespected Obama by hanging up on him repeatedly.

After the misunderstanding was cleared up and Ros-Lehtinen realized it was Obama, she clarified that she was honored to receive the call.

No doubt, Ros-Lehtinen’s career was anything but a joke.

She served in a variety of roles, most notably as the Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee from 2011-2013.

Three times, she delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union Address in Spanish.

More importantly, she was the first to pave a trail for other Hispanic women to serve in Congress.

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.