Roybal-Allard, Lucille: 1941—: U.S. Congresswoman

views updated May 11 2018

Lucille Roybal-Allard: 1941: U.S. Congresswoman

In 1992 Lucille Roybal-Allard became the first woman of Mexican descent to win election to the U.S. Congress. Politics had been a part of her life from childhood; her father, Edward Roybal, served in Congress for 30 years. She developed a strong commitment to social justice early on, and became well known and respected for her activity in community organizations. Her reputation served her well; when she decided at last to run for the California state assembly she was rewarded with a decisive win. Roybal-Allard's efforts in the assembly and in Congress led to the passage of laws to protect the environment, to uphold the rights of women, and to increase opportunities for working families.

Lucille Roybal-Allard was born on June 12, 1941, in Los Angeles, California. Her father was then a public health educator for the California Tuberculosis Association. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Upon his return, he became active in community affairs and in 1949 was elected as a Democrat to the Los Angeles City Council. He served on the council until 1962, when he was elected to Congress, the first Hispanic representative to win in California since 1879. His wife, Lucille Beserra Roybal, shared his commitment and worked closely with his campaign. The earliest campaigns, which were run from the Roybal home, were a family activity, and more than once the Roybal children were enlisted to help stuff campaign material into envelopes.

Aside from being a politician's daughter, Roybal-Allard led a normal life in Boyle Heights, home to much of the Mexican-American community of Los Angeles. She attended parochial schools and earned a bachelor's degree from California State University in 1965. During these years she also married and had two children, Lisa and Ricardo. Her second marriage was to Edward Allard III, owner of a consulting firm.

No Interest in Holding Office

Roybal-Allard knew that she wanted to serve the community, but she had no desire to become politically active. She was impressed with the commitment she saw in both her parents. But growing up in a political household had left her feeling that politics could be too intrusive into one's personal life, and she had little desire to be in the political spotlight. Her mother had often been at her husband's side during his campaigns, but her most important contribution had been behind the scenes, running his campaign headquarters. Roybal-Allard reasoned that working behind the scenes was what she wanted as well, so she opted for a career in nonprofit administration. Among the positions she held were as assistant director of the Alcoholism Council of East Los Angeles, executive director of the National Association of Hispanic CPAs (based in Washington, D.C.), and planning associate for the United Way. In these positions her duties included public relations and fundraising. She came across as calm and quiet, and gained a reputation as a consensus-builder. These were useful attributes for a politician, but RoybalAllard still chose to stay away from the rigors of politics and the loss of privacy she knew would come with a political life.

At a Glance . . .

Born Lucille Roybal on June 12, 1941, in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of Edward Ross Roybal (politician); married Edward Allard III (second marriage); two children, two stepchildren. Education: California State University, BA, 1965.

Career: Alcoholism Council of East Los Angeles, assistant director; National Association of Hispanic CPAs, executive director; United Way, planning associate; California State Assembly, 1987-92; US Congress, 1993.

Memberships: Congressional Hispanic Caucus, chairman, 1998.

Awards: Legislator of the Year award, National Organization for Women, 1991; Legislative Environmental Achievement Award, California Sierra Club, 1992; Las Primeras Award, Mexican-American Women's National Association, 1992.

Addresses: Offices 2435 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20514; 255 East Temple Street, Suite 1860, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

Gradually, however, her feelings changed. Her work in nonprofits allowed her to see first-hand how politics could be as damaging as it could be useful. At their worst, politicians could thwart progress. But at their best they could make significant contributions. One friend she felt fit that description was Gloria Molina, a California state assemblywoman. When Molina left the assembly to join the Los Angeles City Council in 1986, she suggested that Roybal-Allard run for her vacant seat. Roybal-Allard weighed her options and decided that she could make more of a difference in her community as an elected official. She agreed to run as a Democrat for the assembly seat, and beat nine other candidates, garnering 60 percent of the vote. While in office she served on the Assembly Rules Committee and the Ways and Means Committee, and chaired a subcommittee on health and human services.

Brought Grass-Roots Groups Together

Some political observers wondered whether RoybalAllard was too calm and quiet to put up an effective fight when necessary. Being able to bring people together on issues was one thing, after all, but sometimes it was important to take strong stands. Fellow Congressman Xavier Becerra remarked to Hispanic Magazine, "She's very good at knowing when to step forward on issues [that will result in] progress at the end of the day." Soon after her term began, Roybal-Allard was given an opportunity to show her effectiveness. Her first big challenge was the proposed construction of a state prison in a residential area of East Los Angeles. The residents, mainly Mexican-Americans, were understandably opposed to having a prison in their back yards, but the project had the support of the governor, George Deukmajian. Roybal-Allard, with help from other local politicians and grass-roots community organizations, fought against the prison. The fight took six years, and it was another governor, Pete Wilson, who agreed to shelve the prison plan. But the battle also gave Roybal-Allard the opportunity to show her constituents the importance of local involvement and the power of each voice. She orchestrated the various groups, but when they achieved victory she credited the hard work of the community, a community that she noted at the time had been "once viewed as powerless."

Another major challenge that Roybal-Allard faced was a fight to keep a toxic waste incinerator from being built in her district. Once again she called on the strength of grass-roots organizations, and once again community interests prevailed. Roybal-Allard then sponsored legislation to ensure that no toxic incinerator could be built or expanded without an environmental impact study of the region. Her skill at mobilizing the community and pushing through the legislation won her the admiration of environmentalists, and the Sierra Club awarded her its first-ever California Environmental Achievement Award.

Roybal-Allard focused her energies on helping the disadvantaged. She drafted legislation that increased protection of women against domestic violence and sexual harassment. Thanks to legislation she introduced, California became the first state to enact legislation against lawyers who engage in sexual misconduct with their clients. Under the law, the California State Bar Association must take disciplinary action against any lawyer found guilty of such misconduct. She was honored by several women's organizations for her efforts, and the California chapter of the National Organization for Women named her Legislator of the Year in 1991. In part for her work in trying to increase economic opportunities in poorer neighborhoods, Hispanic Business magazine placed her on its list of "100 Professionals" in 1992.

Moved to the National Stage

In 1992, Edward Roybal retired from Congress after three decades of service. His daughter decided to make a run for his seat. She took nearly three quarters of the vote in the Democratic primary and won against her Republican opponent with 63 percent of the vote.

Serving in Congress meant greater responsibility, and it also meant playing on a much larger stage. RoybalAllard continued to work hard for her constituency, but many of the issues she fought for in Los Angeles were just as important in the rest of the country. Her strong support of environmental legislation and women's rights issues continued. She also took strong stands on crime fighting, health care, and immigration law reform. In her own district in California, she introduced a number of workshops on topics ranging from obtaining citizenship to first-time home buying to health issues. She created a Grants Notification Program in her district to provide residents with information about available federal grants and how to apply for them. Her constituents rewarded her with more landslide reelections; in the 1998 election she won 87 percent of the vote.

A typical example of her legislation is a bill she co-sponsored in October of 2002, the Earned Legalization and Family Unification bill. Under this legislation, illegal immigrants who had lived in the United States for five years as productive citizens could be granted legal resident status. The bill was crafted to protect hard-working, law-abiding immigrants living under the constant threat of being found, deported, and possibly separated from their families.

She also sponsored a bill that would allow nonprofit agencies to solicit federal funding to conduct workshops on citizenship for immigrants. The goal of this legislation was to encourage immigrants to become citizens and to encourage citizens to register to vote. Among the projects she created in her home district was the Student Information Program, which provides information to students about financial aid, scholarships and grants, internships, and fellowships.

Roybal-Allard evidently proved to be as popular with her colleagues as with her constituents. She was elected chair of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation in 1997. Two years later she was appointed to the influential House Appropriations Committee, and was elected chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). She was the first Hispanic to be named to the Appropriations Committee and the first woman to head the California delegation and the CHC. However, according to Hispanic Magazines, "despite her rise to national prominence, Roybal-Allard makes it her first priority to represent her Los Angeles community."

Roybal-Allard was also named to the Democratic Homeland Security task force in 2002. She stated on the weekly Hispanic Response radio broadcast, printed at the Democratic National Committee website, "As a member of the Democratic Homeland Security Task Force, I am committed to working with my Congressional colleagues and the Administration to do everything within our power to safeguard our nation from future terrorist threats." Although a supporter of a strong and effective national defense, she was one of 133 Representatives to vote against the joint resolution that would allow the president to use military force against Iraq in a pre-emptive strike.

Despite her busy schedule and travel between Washington and Los Angeles, Roybal-Allard does make time for herself when she can. She enjoys movies, dancing, and music, and particularly enjoys the sounds of Tito Puente.



Telgen, Diana, and Jim Kamp, Notable Hispanic American Women, Gale, 1993.


Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, January 16, 1993, p. 53.

Hispanic Business, April 1999, p. 16.

Latina, May 1999.

Los Angeles Business Journal, June 25, 1990, p. 25.

Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1987, p. 3.


"Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard Delivers Weekly Hispanic Radio Response on Homeland Security Democratic National Committee Website," (March 31, 2003).

"Lucille Roybal-Allard," Hispanic Americans in Congress, (March 31, 2003).

"Lucille Roybal-Allard," Official U.S. Congress home page, (March 31, 2003).

"Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA)," Project Vote Smart, (March 31, 2003).

"Stepping out of Dad's Shadow," Hispanic Magazine Online, (March 31, 2003).

George A. Milite

Lucille Roybal-Allard

views updated May 21 2018

Lucille Roybal-Allard

Lucille Roybal-Allard is the first woman of Mexican American ancestry to be elected to the U.S. Congress.

She became the 33rd Congressional District's representative in November 1992. The oldest daughter of a political family, Roybal-Allard's father is the highly esteemed California Congressman Edward Roybal. After 30 years of Congressional service, Ed Roybal, often called the dean of California Latino legislators, retired in 1992. Congresswoman Roybal-Allard, a Democrat, previously served in the California State Assembly, representing the 56th District from 1987 to 1992. There she served on a number of influential committees, including the Assembly Rules committee and the very powerful Ways and Means committee, which oversees the distribution of public monies. She was also the chair of the Ways and Means subcommittee on Health and Human Services. Her political style, described as quiet and conciliatory, has contributed to her many legislative victories. She won passage of what some have hailed as landmark environmental legislation, as well as new laws in the areas of domestic violence and sexual harassment. Roybal-Allard is especially proud of her work to empower local communities. As she related in an interview with Diana Martínez: "People often don't know how their lives are impacted by what's going on in Sacramento or Washington, D.C. People can take control of their lives. They can be involved in the political process and make a difference."

Roybal-Allard was born and raised in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles, California, a predominately Mexican American area. She attended Saint Mary's Catholic School before she earned her B.A. from California State University, Los Angeles, in 1961. She has warm memories of working on her father's campaign; he was a great example to her, but Roybal-Allard is quick to give equal credit to her mother. "My mom has been a tremendous role model," she revealed to Martínez. "She's really the one who has helped to support and spearhead my father's career. She used to run his headquarters, which used to be our home when we were kids because they couldn't afford a headquarters. So she has always been there, helping him get elected, walking precincts, registering voters, doing all the things that needed to be done. At the same time, she'd be at his side whenever he needed to be at public events. She's worked very hard and is greatly responsible for his success, because it really does take a partnership. In politics it takes the cooperation of your family; otherwise it's almost impossible to succeed."

In an interview with the Civic Center News Source, Roybal-Allard says she remembers working on her father's political campaigns as early as age seven. "We used to fold and stuff and lick stamps. When I got a little bit older they used to call us 'bird dogs,' and we would do voter registration. So I was a bird dog for a few years."

There was a downside to political involvement as well. As Roybal-Allard explained to the Civic Center News Source, "I think for me the main part of it was the lack of privacy and lack of personal identity. When my sister and I would go to a dance where people might not know who we were, we used to decide on a different last name so we could just be anonymous and have fun … I remember as a freshman in college in a political science class I raised my hand to answer a question and after I finished the professor said 'Well, now we know what you're father thinks,' and went on to the next student."

Experiences such as these led Roybal-Allard to the conclusion that she did not want to be a politician. She continued to be involved in her father's campaigns and those of other Latino politicians but chose a career of community and advocacy work for herself. As Roybal-Allard explained to Martínez, her decision to work in community service was a direct result of her upbringing. "When I think you have a role model like both my father and my mother who have really dedicated their lives to the community and have taught human values and understand the value of people, it really has an impact on one's life." She served as the executive director of the National Association of Hispanic CPAs, in Washington, D.C., was the assistant director of the Alcoholism Council of East Los Angeles, and worked as a planning associate for United Way. She enjoyed community work, but as time went on she became more and more frustrated by the barriers created by political policy makers. In 1987 a combination of political opportunity and personal circumstances changed Roybal-Allard's mind about running for office.

Decided to Pursue Political Career

The 1987 election of Assemblywoman Gloria Molina to the newly created seat on the Los Angeles City Council left Molina's assembly position vacant. Roybal-Allard knew Molina through their mutual community activities and she had worked on the assemblywoman's campaign. Molina asked Roybal-Allard to consider running for the vacant assembly position. Her personal situation and the request of her friend led to her decision to run. As she explained to Hispanic, "The timing was just right for me. My children were grown and my husband's job called for a lot of travel." Roybal-Allard's second husband, Edward Allard III, has his own consulting firm whose clients are mostly on the East Coast. Roybal-Allard told Martínez that she received no pressure from her father to run. "I'm sure that his involvement in politics ultimately was one of the reasons … that I wound up getting involved in politics. But, he has always been one that believed that we needed to be independent and make decisions on our own, and if we need guidance he will be there." Once she decided to run for California's State Assembly, she received help from both her father and Gloria Molina. She easily defeated nine other candidates and won with 60 percent of the vote.

As a newly elected Assemblywoman, one of Roybal-Allard's first tasks was to continue the fight against building a prison in East L.A. A tremendous challenge for a new politician considering that her principal foe was the governor of California. In 1986, Governor George Deukmejian proposed a site near a heavily Mexican American residential area as the location for a State prison. Deukmejian tried to steamroll the opposition to get the prison built but had his plans flattened instead. For seven years Roybal-Allard, along with Gloria Molina and other local Latino politicians, worked with grassroots organizations, professional groups, and church leaders to prevent the prison from being built. As an expression of her philosophy of local empowerment, Roybal-Allard assisted community women in organizing "The Mothers of East L.A." which was implacable in its opposition to the prison. A series of legal maneuvers halted construction of the prison but did not kill it. Deukmejian left office in 1990, but the struggle against the prison continued until September 1992 when Governor Pete Wilson signed a bill, amended by Roybal-Allard, which eliminated the funds for the construction of the East L.A. prison. This victory, coming as Roybal-Allard left the California Assembly for the U.S. Congress, gave her cause to reflect on her own feelings and what the political struggle meant to her community. As she stated in a press release, "I started my assembly career when the East Los Angles prison bill was approved and it feels great to be leaving the assembly on this victory note… . This is a victory for the entire community. For seven years our community has marched against the prison, we have fought in the courts and in [California capital] Sacramento—this fight has empowered us. This community was once viewed as powerless. However, the Mothers of East Los Angeles and other community groups have served notice to the state's powerbrokers that ignoring the desires of the East Los Angeles community will no longer be accepted."

The prison was not the only struggle Roybal-Allard waged to improve the quality of life in her district. She fought against a toxic waste incinerator, again aided by the highly respected grass roots organization, Mothers of East Los Angeles. As a result of that struggle Roybal-Allard authored a bill which entitles every community in California to an environmental impact report before a toxic incinerator is built or expanded, a protection that was often omitted prior to her efforts. This bill, along with her strong voting record on the environment, earned her the Sierra Club's California Environmental Achievement Award.

Took Action on Women's Issues

Roybal-Allard has also authored a series of laws which place her in the forefront of women's issues. Included is a requirement that the courts take into consideration an individual's history of domestic violence in child custody cases. She has also worked for legislation requiring colleges to provide information and referrals for treatment to rape victims and enacted two laws that strengthen the legal position of sexual assault victims by redefining the meaning of "consent." Another of her bills requires the California State Bar to take disciplinary action against attorneys who engage in sexual misconduct with their clients. This is the first such law adopted by any state in the country.

For her legislative efforts, Roybal-Allard has received a number of prestigious awards and commendations, including honors from the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women, the Asian Business Association, and the Latin American Professional Women's Association. Roybal-Allard was also honored in 1992 by the Mexican American Women's National Association (MANA) in Washington DC. She was presented with the "Las Primaras" Award for "her pioneering efforts in creating a better future for the community through the political process.

Ironically, when Roybal-Allard was first elected to the California Assembly many thought her to be too demure to be effective. But as she explained to Hispanic her conciliatory style is long-range effective, "People may be your enemies today on one issue, but they may be your allies tomorrow on another issue. So I've learned to work well with groups on both sides of the aisle, even with those who I oppose bitterly on particular issues." Her track record on political effectiveness to date has been impressive. A number of community members, and political observers, have speculated that when the senior Roybal left Congress in 1992, his daughter followed in his steps, continuing the Roybal legacy of effective representation.

Further Reading

Civic Center News Source, January 13, 1992, pp. 1, 8, 12.

Hispanic, March 9, 1992, p. 20.

Los Angeles Times, February 7, 1997, p. A3.

News release from the office of Lucille Roybal-Allard, September 16, 1992. Roybal-Allard, Lucille, interview with Diana Martínez, September 2, 1992. □