May 22, 2000
California State Senator Hilda Solis Receives 2000 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award
Boston – Senator Hilda Solis (D-El Monte), a California state senator who overcame the strong opposition of a former governor and the California business community to win environmental protections for minority communities, was honored today by members of President Kennedy's family as the recipient of the 2000 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.
Solis was presented the prestigious award for political courage at a ceremony attended by President Kennedy's daughter Caroline Kennedy, his brother, Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), and his sister, Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith. The award ceremony was held at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum on Columbia Point in Boston. Solis, who is the first woman to receive the Profile in Courage Award, made history by becoming the first Latina ever elected to the California State Senate. She recently won the Democratic primary for California's 31st Congressional District.
"Senator Hilda Solis clearly demonstrates why the art of politics is a noble profession essential to a healthy democracy," said Caroline Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Library Foundation. "Her ability to surmount political obstacles and entrenched opposition to secure protections for a disenfranchised minority was skillful and courageous. She is a source of inspiration for those who share my father's belief that one person can make a difference, and that every person should try."
The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to an elected official who has withstood strong opposition from constituents, powerful interest groups or adversaries to follow what they believe is the right course of action. The award is named for President Kennedy's 1957 Pulitzer prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. Senators who risked their careers to fight for what they believed in. The award is accompanied by a $25,000 stipend and a sterling silver lantern representing a beacon of hope. The silver lantern was designed by Edwin Schlossberg, Inc. and crafted by Tiffany & Co. The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award was created by the Kennedy Library Foundation in 1989 and is presented annually, on or near May 29, in celebration of President Kennedy's birthday.
Before presenting Solis with the silver lantern, Caroline Kennedy read the following citation:
Hilda Solis has dedicated over twenty years to public life in order to make a difference for her community. Her career is characterized by a deep belief in the power of the people to make informed decisions. She is a dedicated public servant who believes that government can be a positive force to improve the quality of life for the poor and the disenfranchised.
As a young Latina woman, she entered public life when woman role models were rarer. She quickly became a pioneer and trailblazer who opened doors and dispelled myths about women in politics. Her clear sense of mission and pragmatic approach to solving problems has made her an extraordinarily productive legislator. She represents her constituents - predominantly working poor people - with determination. Her popularity with her electors is based on her demonstrated record to stand up for their issues, which frequently means a willingness to take on tough and unpopular issues.
Hilda Solis has authored landmark legislation in the areas of work conditions and environmental protections. She has been a strong advocate for women's rights, a leading author of measures pertaining to women's health, and she co-chaired a successful initiative to raise the minimum wage in California. Senator Solis also took on entrenched economic interests as she sought relief for minority communities that suffered the ill effects of haphazard enforcement of environmental laws.
The oldest daughter of immigrant parents, Hilda Solis gives deep meaning to President Kennedy's words, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
Senator Solis' initial legislation on environmental justice, which was introduced into the California State Senate in February, 1997, sought a wide range of efforts to counter the disproportionate number of waste sites and polluting factories in poor neighborhoods, many with large numbers of Latinos or African Americans. Solis' own district is home to eight landfills, a federal Superfund toxic waste cleanup site and several mines and factories, many near schools.
The legislation was vetoed by then-Governor Pete Wilson who sided with the strong business lobby opposed to additional environmental regulations. Described by one account as a politician who "hasn't shied away from challenging the old boy network both within and without the Latino community," Solis refused to give up and reintroduced new environmental justice legislation to the state legislature. Arguing that polluting projects were located near minority and low-income neighborhoods in disproportionate numbers, Solis successfully marshaled support for the environmental justice bill. Defined as "the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws," the new legislation won passage and was signed into law by Governor Gray Davis in October 1999. The legislation is the first of its kind.
Hilda Solis was born on October 20, 1957 in Los Angeles, California. She attended La Puente High School and went on to receive her bachelor's degree from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and a master's degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California.
Solis served in the White House Office of Hispanic Affairs during the Carter administration. She also served as a management analyst for the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in Washington, D.C. Solis was elected to the Rio Hondo Community College Board of Trustees in 1985 and 1989.
In 1992, Solis was elected to the California State Assembly, and in 1994, she was elected to the California State Senate representing California's 24th Senatorial District. Solis was re-elected in November 1998.
On March 7, 2000, Senator Solis won the Democratic primary for her U.S. Congressional District, receiving 69% of the votes cast. Solis upset 18-year incumbent Representative Matthew G. Martinez (D-CA) in her bid to represent California's 31st District in Washington. No Republican is running for the seat.
Solis is married to Sam Sayyad, a small business owner in Irwindale, CA.
Past recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award are former U.S. Congressman Carl Elliott, Sr. of Alabama; former U.S. Congressman Charles Weltner of Georgia; former Governor of Connecticut Lowell Weicker; former Governor of New Jersey James Florio; U.S. Congressman Henry Gonzalez of Texas; former U.S. Congressman Michael Synar of Oklahoma; former Calhoun County, Georgia School Superintendent Corkin Cherubini; Circuit Court Judge of Montgomery County, Alabama Charles Price; Garfield County, Montana Attorney Nickolas C. Murnion; and 1999 co-recipients U.S. Senators John McCain of Arizona and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin. In December, 1998, a special Profile in Courage Award was presented to eight political leaders of Northern Ireland and former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, the chairman of the peace talks, in recognition of the extraordinary political courage they demonstrated in negotiating the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement.
This year's recipient of the 11th John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award was selected by a nine-member committee whose chairman is John Seigenthaler, Chairman of the Freedom Forum at the First Amendment Center, Vanderbilt University. The committee's other members are: David Burke, former executive vice president of ABC News and former president of CBS News; Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children's Defense Fund; Antonia Hernandez, President of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Edward M. Kennedy, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts; Caroline Kennedy, author, attorney, and president of the Kennedy Library Foundation; David McCullough, historian and author of the Pulitzer prize-winning biography Truman; Alan Simpson, former U.S. Senator of Wyoming, and director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government; and Olympia Snowe, U.S. Senator from Maine.
The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum is the nation's official memorial to President John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States. The Kennedy Library is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.
Tom McNaught (617) 514-1662