Shashrina Thomas is the bridge between the first and second African-American women to serve on the House Ways and Means Committee.
It had been nine years since an African-American woman served on the panel until Alabama Democrat Terri A. Sewell joined this year with the help of Thomas, her chief of staff.
Thomas worked for the late Ohio Democratic Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the first black woman in the House to serve on the Ways and Means Committee. In the nine years since her former boss’ death, she knows what was missing in that time.
“I believe a woman looks beyond the surface. I believe a woman listens to a child’s heartbeat, hears the cries of a child and a grandmother, a mother, a senior citizen,” Thomas said. “A woman’s voice is critical and it’s important and it balances it out.”
“Evidence shows, typically, women have more compassion and empathy and a more open and inclusive negotiating style,” she added. “Women tend to take more time to hear the concerns of the people they represent.”
Thomas got her first job on Capitol Hill in 1998 as an intern for Ohio Democratic Rep. Louis Stokes, whom Tubbs Jones succeeded. She worked for Tubbs Jones for two and a half years as her appropriations director and legislative director.
Days after Thomas started working for Tubbs Jones in 2002, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi chose the Ohio lawmaker for Ways and Means.
“When the case was made about the need of having an African-American women — voice — on this committee and the need for the concerns to be addressed from actually looking at the evidence of how strong the African-American woman is … there was no need to try to convince Leader Pelosi any further,” Thomas said.
“She realized that the time was now and what better choice than Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who, I think, grew to receive favor from both parties,” she said.
Thomas is accustomed to working with Republicans. Sewell, whom she has worked for since 2014, is the only Democrat in Alabama’s seven-member delegation.
“Her voice is more important than the average person’s on the Ways and Means Committee [and] as a member of the Health Subcommittee and the Human Resources Subcommittee,” she said.
Children in the South living in poverty should have a “voice in the most influential committee that has jurisdiction over the resources that provides better health care for all Americans,” Thomas said.
One of the most important lessons she has learned in her time on the Hill, and one that she passes on to new staffers, is the importance of bipartisanship.
“If you grew up traditionally being a part of a political party, we understand the grass-roots point of view but moving forward in the 21st century, as we look towards globalization, it’s important to respect the values of the opposite party and find common ground,” Thomas said.
“I think this past presidential election has taught not only America, but also the world, never to take anything for granted. It’s important to not look at things in one way,” she said. “The world has to see, OK, maybe the presidency is going another type of way but we’re still the strongest country and we’re going to stand together if we need to. But you can only do that working across the aisle.”