Author: Debbie Hummel
For many years, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite was content to get her public policy fix serving as an aide for the New York State Senate.
“I loved my job. I loved public policy but I never had any idea to run for office. My children were small and I wanted to be the person behind the scenes,” Brown-Waite said.
Even after she and her husband, Harvey Waite, who was a New York State Trooper for many years, retired to Florida in 1985, Brown-Waite continued to commute to New York to work for the senate. It wasn’t until her mother became ill and moved in with Brown-Waite that she moved full-time to Florida.
Not long after that Brown-Waite came across an issue in her community that she felt she had to work on.
There had been some cement companies in the county that were looking at using their kilns to burn hazardous waste, Brown-Waite said.
“As I saw my neighbors getting older and older and saw more neighbors with cases of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or chronic Bronchitis and thought about hazardous waste trucks coming into the county … it was an issue that I got out in front on,” she said.
The waste facility never opened and her activism won her election to the Hernando County Commission in 1990. She was elected to the Florida State Senate in 1992 where she served for a decade rising to the position of Republican whip.
Since 2003, Brown-Waite has represented Florida’s 5th District, an area of more than three counties north of Tampa, Fla.
She’s earned a reputation as a committed representative to her district and humbly passes off the issue of her fast-paced, mid-life political ascendancy as due to the right timing in her life and a strong commitment to her community. She doesn’t always follow the party line and speaks her mind.
“I had a reporter once tell me I could never run with a hyphenated name in the South and win. I thought, ‘if I’m going to change to get a vote then I guess I shouldn’t run.’”
She says it’s important for women to get involved in policy and the easiest way is to start by finding an issue they care about and then volunteer.
“Women need to look for ways that they can influence public policy so that it’s good public policy whether it’s education public policy or tax public policy,” she said. “Anyone who’s even considering public office should get involved in somebody else’s campaign first so they can see what it takes and what kind of energy is involved.”
Brown-Waite has three daughters and is grandmother to three grandsons and one granddaughter. She says she regrets that her busy schedule keeps her from seeing much of her granddaughter, who lives in Tennessee.
Brown-Waite serves on the Financial Services, Homeland Security and Veterans’ Affairs committees.
During her first term Brown-Waite was able to get a proposal passed that requires VA hospitals to allow veterans to be treated at private facilities if the VA can’t treat them within 30 days of their seeking care.
But she says that the most important thing a representative can do is stay connected to constituents.
“I would have to say the most rewarding thing is really not necessarily here in Washington passing bills but helping individuals back at home,” she said. “I go home every weekend, which I think our forefathers really meant for representatives to do. I see people in church, I see people in the grocery store. I think it’s important for elected officials to remain available and approachable.”