Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, dead at 68

The Associated Press reports House Administration Committee Chairwoman Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Carson, died early Sunday of cancer; she was 68.

Millender-McDonald died at her home in Carson, said her chief of staff, Bandele McQueen; no other details of her illness were provided. The congresswoman had asked for a four- to six-week leave of absence from the House last week to deal with her illness. She was in her seventh term representing a heavily Democratic Southern California district that includes Compton, Long Beach and parts of Los Angeles; she’d previously served on the Carson City Council and in the Assembly. When Democrats retook the majority this year, she became chairwoman of the House Administration Commiteee, which oversees operations of the House and federal election procedures. She has recently worked on issues including election reform and opposing the genocide in Darfur.

California Democratic Party chairman Art Torres said:

“California and the nation have lost a great friend and public servant. I have known Juanita for many years, having served with her in the California legislature in the early ‘90s. She was a champion for the consumer and fought injustice wherever she saw it. She always valued public service and served her state and nation with grace and honor.

“Juanita’s Congressional record included several distinguishing firsts, including being the first African-American woman to give the national Democratic response to President Bush’s weekly radio address and initiating the annual Memorial Day Tribute to Women in the Military. Her solid commitment and advocacy will be greatly missed.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family.”

UPDATE @ 9:25 PM SUNDAY: Comments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and others, after the jump…

From House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

“On behalf of all Members of Congress, today I express my deepest condolences to the family of Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald, especially her husband, her five children, and her seven grandchildren.

“Since learning of her illness, her many friends in Congress have expressed their love and respect for her.

“As the first African American woman to chair a committee in Congress, Juanita Millender-McDonald was a trailblazer, always advocating for the full participation of all Americans in the success and prosperity of our country. She was a strong defender of the right of every eligible voter to have full access to the polls, and a tireless proponent of a fair election process that ensured that every vote would be counted.

“As Chair of the House Administration Committee, Congresswoman Millender-McDonald’s deep commitment to diversity was manifested in her actions on hiring and contracting within the House of Representatives.

“The loss of Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald is a personal one for me. She was always optimistic and determined to make a difference. The dignity with which she faced her illness was an indication of the determination with which she always served the people of her district. They have lost an effective leader and spokeswoman, and I have lost a dear friend.”

From Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger:

“Maria and I were saddened to learn of the passing of one of California’s dedicated public servants. Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald was deeply devoted to our state and our nation, and served with profound vision and integrity. She was a pioneer who will continue to serve as an inspiration for Californians and all Americans. Maria and I offer our deepest condolences to Congresswoman Millender-McDonald’s family as they mourn the loss of a truly distinguished individual.”

From House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio:

“I was saddened to hear of the passing of our colleague Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald. Juanita was a dedicated public servant who honorably represented the constituents of California’s 37th District, and her passing is a great loss to the institution of the House and the American people. My thoughts and prayers, and those of the House of Representatives, are with her family, staff, and friends.”

From Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean:

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Rep. Millender-McDonald’s family and friends along with the constituents she proudly served for seven terms in California’s 37th district. Recently Rep. Millender-McDonald made history when she became the first African American woman to serve as Chair of the House Administration Committee. She was widely known for her hard work, commitment, and strong sense of purpose and determination. She will be sorely missed.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.