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Juanita Millender-McDonald - Former U.S. Representative - Los Angeles Harbor College

Even from her beginnings as a teacher, Representative Juanita Millender-McDonald fought for others. She wrote a textbook exposing female students to non-traditional careers. The late Los Angeles Harbor College alumna was an advocate for educational and women's issues. Millender-McDonald was on nearly every level of politics from Democratic convention delegate to a member of the United States Congress.

Millender-McDonald was born in Birmingham, Ala. on Sept. 7, 1938. When she was three her mother died and her father moved his family of five children to the Los Angeles area. She lived in the city of Carson for more than 30 years. She began her career as a teacher after attending Los Angeles Harbor College and then receiving a business degree from the University of Redlands and earning her teaching credentials in the California State University system. Millender-McDonald then went on to acquire her masters degree in educational administration from California State University, Los Angeles. Despite her busy schedule as a member of the House of Representatives, she still made education an important and personal part of her life. Before her death in 2007, Millender-McDonald earned a doctorate degree in public administration from the University of Southern California.

After receiving her masters, Millender-McDonald left the classroom to become a writer for the Los Angeles Unified School District and edited a textbook designed for young women and girls called "Images." The textbook, which was written to steer female students toward non-traditional careers, was one of the first examples of Millender-McDonald's life-long interest in women's issues. In 1984 the then high school administrator took her daughter to the Democratic National Convention as a delegate. The pair was the first mother-daughter combination to be delegates at a political party's national convention. After her stint as a writer, Millender-McDonald was named the director of Gender Equity Programs for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school system in the country.

In 1990, Millender-McDonald began her career as a politician. She was elected to the Carson City Council, the body's first African American woman. In only her second year, she was appointed mayor pro tempore. One of her first acts was to have an ordinance passed that made the position of mayor an elected office rather than an appointed one. She also began her career-long interest in transportation issues when she took on the Southern Pacific Transportation Company, nicknamed The Octopus. The company's endless lines of freight trains blocked rush-hour traffic in Carson and Alameda. When she asked the company about rescheduling the trains, Millender-McDonald told the Los Angeles Times'; Bill Boyarsky, "They took an arrogant attitude. Their response was they couldn't do anything about it." The transportation concern would follow Millender-McDonald all the way to Congress eight years later.

In 1992, Millender-McDonald decided to take her political career to the state level. After defeating two Democratic incumbents in the primary, she became the first woman to represent the 55th Assembly District in the California State Legislature. In Sacramento, she continued to be attracted to education and transportation issues.

In her first three years at the California State Legislature, Millender-McDonald introduced more than 100 bills and several dealt with the transportation problem she first confronted as a member of the Carson City Council. The solution to the slow-running trains, which continued to delay the city's rush hour traffic, is called the Alameda corridor. The $1.8 billion public works project would lay new train tracks and build trenches and bridges. Millender-McDonald then fought to make the Alameda corridor a national transportation artery, which made it eligible for federal funding. In the State Legislature, she also became the first woman to chair both the Insurance Committee and the Revenue and Taxation Committee. In the field of education Millender-McDonald conducted hearings across the state for three years to create an urban education reform proposal.

When Representative Walter R. Tucker III resigned from office in 1996, there was a special election to fill the remaining months of his term. Eight Democrats competed in the election to determine who would represent the 37th District. One of those Democrats was Juanita Millender-McDonald. The former Garfield High School teacher won the special election to become the first woman to represent perhaps the most ethnically diverse district in the country. She won enough votes in the March 1996 special election not only to go to Washington D.C., but to automatically qualify for the regular November election. In the full election seven months later, she won against her Republican challenger with 85 percent of the vote.

For her efforts on behalf of her district, she was honored with a spot on the Watts Walk of Fame in February of 1998 and a Carson, Ca. community center was named in her honor in 2007. She is survived by husband James McDonald Jr. They have five adult children.

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