Rep. Pingree joins Maine delegation

Posted Jan. 06, 2009, at 9:39 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Democrat Chellie Pingree was sworn in to office Tuesday as the first female Democrat from Maine to serve in either congressional chamber.

Jeanne Shaheen was sworn in to office as New Hampshire’s first female U.S. senator.

“The people of the First District have entrusted me with a critically important job at a critically important moment in our history,” Pingree said in a news release after her swearing-in.

“The challenges that the people of our state and our country face right now are enormous — but there are also some great opportunities,” she continued. “From fixing our economy to reforming our health care system, we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Pingree’s children — Asa, Cecily and Hannah, the newly elected speaker of the Maine House — all watched as Pingree took the oath of office. Her 4-year-old grandson, Smith, went with her on the floor of the U.S. House for the swearing-in ceremony.

Pingree was sworn in along with 53 other new House members.

Pingree’s arrival in Congress was not the only political first for women from New England.

Jeanne Shaheen was sworn in to office as New Hampshire’s first female U.S. senator, but said her excitement was tempered by the massive economic challenges facing the country.

The Democratic lawmaker was among nine new senators — seven of them Democrats — taking the oath of office from Vice President Dick Cheney in the Senate chamber of the U.S. Capitol. Her husband, three daughters and other family members watched from the gallery above.

“I think it isn’t as much of a celebration, but it’s a solemn occasion because we are faced with tremendous challenges in this country,” Shaheen said after the ceremony.

Shaheen was accompanied by New Hampshire’s senior senator — Republican Judd Gregg — as she walked down the chamber’s center aisle, clutching the same leather-bound Bible she used to be sworn in as the state’s governor in 1997.

The noon ceremony was followed an hour later by a re-enactment at the old Senate chamber for the benefit of television cameras.

Also among those taking their oaths of office was Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who is starting her third term as Maine’s junior senator.

“It is an honor to continue to have the privilege to serve the people of the great state of Maine,” Collins said. “I pledge to continue working closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address our nation’s enormous economic, energy, and health care challenges.”

Sen. Collins was joined today by several members of her family and hundreds of supporters from Maine to celebrate her swearing-in ceremony.

Like Collins, Pingree, of North Haven, also stressed the need for bipartisanship.

“I’m ready to get to work with Democrats and Republicans and the incoming Obama administration to pass an economic reform program that creates jobs in Maine and across the country,” Pingree said. “It’s our first priority and we are going to have to work together to get a program passed this month.”

Shaheen also said that helping President-elect Barack Obama pass an economic stimulus package that could cost up to $1 trillion is high on her agenda.

“My first priority lies with the president-elect to try and get this economy moving again,” she said.

Shaheen’s swearing-in caps a historic victory that saw her become the first woman in the United States elected both governor and senator from a state, according to associate Senate historian Donald Ritchie.

Shaheen’s victory over incumbent Republican Sen. John Sununu in the November election helped Democrats boost their majority in the Senate to either 58 or 59 seats, depending on the outcome of the contested Senate race in Minnesota. Her successful campaign came six years after Sununu defeated her to win his first term in 2002.

As the first Democratic senator from New Hampshire in 33 years, Shaheen’s election also helped further the Democratic tide in New England. Now, Gregg, Collins and Maine’s senior U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe are the only Republicans left among the region’s 12 senators. There are no GOP House members left in New England.

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