Dogged Democrat

A true outsider, she brings real-life experience into the House.

Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.) is an anomaly. She’s a 39-year-old, liberal, working-class freshman Democrat from Ann Arbor, elected to Congress in the very year her party suffered its worst debacle in a generation. She’s not likely to vote for any budget that depends on cuts to Medicare or Social Security. She believes in universal health care; education funding is sacrosanct.

Maybe she can swim against the tide, because, unlike many of her colleagues, she has had to survive in the real world. Rivers and her husband married the day after their high school graduation. They had two kids before she turned 21. Rivers sold Tupperware, became a realtor, and worked her way through college and law school. Her husband, Joe, still works as a boiler operator for Ford back in Ypsilanti.

When Rivers was elected, the couple moved her furniture to Washington in the back of Joe’s pickup. In committee meetings, some of the coarser GOP members roll their eyes when she enters, toting her bulging canvas bag. “I don’t exactly look like a politician,” she says. She doesn’t get treated like one, either. The new Republican majority assigned her an office so small, some of her staff are on a separate floor.

Rivers stays close to the people in her district, which covers a broad spectrum — from lefty, affluent Ann Arbor, to suburbs full of Angry White Males, to down-at-the-heels Ypsilanti. In ’94, Rivers was liberal enough to win big in Ann Arbor, but also edged out the GOP in blue-collar towns.

Joe Fitzsimmons hopes to change that. The retired Republican millionaire wants her spot and plans to spend “as much as it takes,” painting her as a big-spending, criminal-coddling friend of Bill Clinton.

Maybe it’ll work and maybe it won’t. The Republicans don’t like to admit the real source of Rivers’ strength: She remains more of an outsider in Washington than do the radical GOP freshmen who rode into town railing against the very institution they fought so hard to join.


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