WASHINGTON — Ever since her stunning victory in November, Tammy Baldwin has almost downplayed the historic significance of her winning a seat in the United States Senate.
But on Thursday, even she acknowledged her name will become part of Senate lore after she was sworn in as the newest senator from Wisconsin. Upon taking that oath of office, Baldwin officially became the first woman from the Badger State and the first openly gay person to serve in Congress’ Upper Chamber.
Wearing a gray dress with a matching jacket and pearls, Baldwin, 50, was escorted to the well of the Senate floor by Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Oshkosh, and Herb Kohl, whose retirement after 24 years created the open seat for his fellow Democrat.
After taking the brief oath during a ceremony that began at noon, Baldwin smiled broadly and applauded from her desk in the back of the chamber as other senators stepped forward, in groups of three, to be sworn in.
Afterward, she participated in her first Senate roll call before heading over to the Russell Senate Office Building to greet friends and supporters who had witnessed the swearing in on a monitor.
“This is an unbelievable moment for me,” Baldwin said in a packed reception room, “and I’m so humbled to be able to thank everyone who’s here in person.
“I’m proud to have the honor of being sworn in as the first woman from the state of Wisconsin and as the first openly gay member to serve in the United States Senate in our nation’s history.”
Then, she repeated what has become almost a slogan from her campaign: “I did not run to make history; I ran to make a difference.”
Baldwin said she wanted to make a difference in the lives of Wisconsin families struggling to cope with unemployment, in the lives of veterans who need someone to fight for them, students looking for help with loans and seniors worried about whether they can survive in retirement.
“In choosing me to tackle the challenges we face and to work to move our state and country forward, the people of Wisconsin have truly made history,” Baldwin said. “All I can do is work as hard as I can to keep that trust.”
Baldwin, who had been elected to seven terms as a congresswoman from Madison, defied the doubters and political pundits on Nov. 6 when she defeated Tommy Thompson, a popular former four-term governor, capping what had become an acrimonious race.
Baldwin was one of five women elected to the Senate, bringing the total number of women senators to 20, the largest ever. She was one of 13 new members overall who were sworn in.
Kohl predicted Wisconsinites will love their new senator.
“We’re going to see someone who always puts the issues of the citizens of Wisconsin first, who runs a first-class constituent operation and is a fighter for middle-class families,” Kohl said. “She’s smart. She’s knowledgeable. She’s hard-working. She’s compassionate. And she’s determined to be a representative of all the people of our state.”
Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate echoed Kohl’s remarks and added Baldwin represents “an exciting fresh, new burst of energy in the Senate.”
For Heather Colburon, a Madison political consultant, the moment was far greater than what she and Baldwin envisioned 15 years ago when they sat in the senator’s basement “dreaming really big dreams about what was possible.”
Colburon, who served as a political adviser to Baldwin’s campaign, said the new senator’s election was a major breakthrough for women in Wisconsin.
“We didn’t just shatter a glass ceiling,” Colburon told the Baldwin supporters, “we’re actually dancing on it.”