Who is she?
Ms. Tammy Duckworth is a Thai-American born in Bangkok to an American father and Thai mother. Growing up, she lived in Singapore, Indonesia, and the United States and speaks fluent Thai and Indonesian.
Her family has a long history of serving in the U.S. military and Duckworth, who joined the U.S. Army Reserve in 1990, is a veteran of the Iraq War. While there, she lost both legs and severely damaged her right arm. She was appointed assistant secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in 2009 for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and resigned in 2011 to launch a campaign to win a seat in the U.S. Congress.
Duckworth currently serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard alongside her husband Army Major Bryan Bowlsbey, who also served in Iraq. Duckworth earned a Master’s degree in International Affairs from George Washington University in 1992. She was pursuing a Ph.D. focusing on Southeast Asia at Northern Illinois University when she was deployed to Iraq in 2004.
Why is she in the news?
Duckworth will represent Illinois’ 8th congressional district in the 113th U.S. Congress, which includes the northern suburbs of Chicago and parts of Cook, DuPage, and Kane counties. In the hotly contested November 6 election, she challenged and beat Republican freshman and Tea Party favorite, Representative Joe Walsh.
Walsh outspent his challenger three to one, while Duckworth poured her efforts into campaigning on the ground, winning her congressional seat by nearly 10 percentage points. Duckworth is the first Thai-American woman elected to Congress.
What can we expect from her?
Duckworth will likely help shape U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia in addition to influencing domestic public policy. She has called for Congress to play a greater role in trade negotiations and to ensure that the U.S. upholds labor and environmental standards.
Given her experience growing up in Southeast Asia and strong interest in the region, Duckworth’s unique background lends rare expertise on Southeast Asia at a time when many congressional stalwarts of Asia-Pacific relations are stepping down. This could allow her to assume a leadership role in guiding U.S.-Southeast Asia relations in the coming years.