Women in Leadership: a Conversation with Rep. Barbara Comstock and Rep. Gwen Graham
March 10, 2020
The John Brademas Center of New York University and Former Members of Congress (FMC) hosted an off-the-record discussion focused on women in leadership. This roundtable discussion included former Members of Congress Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL). Both Members were first elected in the 114th United States Congress and assumed office on January 3, 2015. The discussion focused on their time in office and the importance of female representation. NYU DC students, Brenda Mendez and Mirela Minkova, moderated the conversation.
This event was for students only, and was not recorded nor livestreamed. Students from non-NYU institutions had to register in order to attend.
Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA), United States House of Representatives
Barbara was elected to Congress in 2014, and served two terms representing Virginia's Tenth Congressional District, making her the first woman elected to that seat. She was named as one of the "Top Ten Most Effective Lawmakers" in the 115th Congress by the Center for Effective Lawmaking, a joint effort of the University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University.
During her time in Congress, Barbara was a leader on technology and cybersecurity issues, chairing the Science, Space, and Technology Committee's Research and Technology subcommittee, as well as serving on the Joint Economic Committee, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the House Administration Committee. Her legislative achievements include passing legislation to promote women and disadvantaged populations in STEM, as well as expanding research in the technology space. Barbara also was the leader on anti-sexual harassment legislation in Congress, and legislation to tackle the opioid crisis and gang crime. She partnered with Senator McCain to reauthorize multi-year firefighter grants to increase innovation and public safety. While in Congress, Barbara was the only woman in the Virginia congressional delegation and the only Virginia member to chair a subcommittee.
Prior to serving in Congress, Barbara served as a Member of the Virginia House of Delegates. There she was also a leader on technology issues serving as chairwoman of the Science and Technology Committee. She also served on the Commerce and Labor Committee and the General Laws Committee. Barbara was a go-to leader in technology, authoring and passing legislation such as the Research and Development Tax Credit, Data Center Tax Incentives, the first Telework bills in Virginia, and legislation on human trafficking and health care. She received the Virginia Chamber's Free Enterprise Award and Competitiveness Award.
Prior to elected office, Barbara co-founded her own public affairs firm and was a senior partner at Blank Rome Government Relations. She also served as Director of the Office of Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Justice, overseeing the communications efforts at the Justice Department and FBI, handling communications dealing with major terrorism investigations, corporate fraud, and antitrust matters.
Congresswoman Gwen Graham (D-FL), United States House of Representatives
From January of 2015 to January of 2017, Gwen Graham served as the first female Member of Congress from North Florida. During her term in Congress, Gwen served on the Agriculture Committee. She worked on several Subcommittees including General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research. She also served on the Armed Services Committee. Some other Subcommittees she served on include Tactical Air and Land forces, Oversight and Investigations, and Sea Power and Projection Forces. During her term, she worked tirelessly to develop working relationships with members from both sides of the aisle, which ranked her the position as the ninth most bipartisan member of the 114th Congress.
Gwen Graham is currently the Director of the Florida State Parks Foundation and a member of the City of Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board. Since 2018, she has served as the Executive Committee member on Ruth’s List. Ruth’s List is an organization dedicated to building a more progressive Florida by recruiting and assisting pro-choice Democratic women to successfully run for public office in Tallahassee, country commissions, city councils, and other key positions around the state.
Prior to her current position, from November of 2018 to July of 2019 Gwen acted as the Co-Chair for Rebuild 850, a not-for-profit organization formed to help Floridians recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Michael. Gwen proudly worked with a broad and diverse group of dedicated partner organizations in encouraging people to donate, invest, visit, and volunteer in Florida’s panhandle region.
From September of 2007 to April of 2013, Gwen served as the Director of Employee relations and later the Chief of Labor and Employee relations for the Leon County School district. She focused on providing legal counsel and mediating disputes between aggrieved employees and district management. Prior to her time with the Leon County School District, Gwen served as an Associate Attorney. Some of the groups grouped she served include Dobson, Davis, and Smith, the Florida Surrogate Director for the John Kerry for President Campaign, the Southern Director for the Howard Dean for President Campaign, and an Advisor for the Bob Graham for President Campaign.
Gwen has three children, Sarah, Graham, and Mark. She claims that her three children are her “proudest accomplishments” and that her most important experience has been “raising and molding my three children into smart, kind, and thoughtful active citizens”. Gwen has remained active throughout her children’s lives by volunteering at their schools and by serving as the president of the Parent Teacher Association at Kate Sullivan Elementary School in Tallahassee.
Gwen attended the University of North Carolina, from which she received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1984. She also attended the American University Washington College of Law, from which she received her Juris Doctor in 1988. She passed the Florida Bar in 1989.