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Former U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, who ‘broke the mold again and again,’ dies at 67

Former U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, who ‘broke the mold again and again,’ dies at 67
Ellen Tauscher died Monday of complications from pneumonia. She was 67. (Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

Ellen Tauscher, a Bay Area politician and investment banker who served in Congress, worked in the State Department and sat on the UC Board of Regents, died Monday after a months-long battle with pneumonia. She was 67.

Tauscher overcame cancer in 2010 but had been suffering from pneumonia since January, said her family, who were with her at Stanford University Medical Center at the time of her death.

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“Ellen was a force to be reckoned with from the time she was a young girl…. She succeeded at everything she did and made her mark wherever she went. She was the strongest, bravest person we have ever known,” her family said in a statement.

Tauscher, a New Jersey native, served 12 years as a congresswoman representing Contra Costa, Alameda and Solano counties from 1997 to 2009. She left Congress that year to join the Obama administration as undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, working under Hillary Clinton.

After retirement, Tauscher remained involved in state affairs as a member of the UC Board of Regents, where she headed a key security committee overseeing the university’s three federal labs. She also was chairwoman of the Military Advisory Council under Gov. Jerry Brown.

Before her career as a congresswoman, Tauscher was an active Democratic fundraiser and served as co-chair for the Senate campaigns of Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in 1992 and 1994.

In a statement Tuesday morning, Feinstein remembered Tauscher as a force in politics and a “best friend.”

“She wouldn’t hesitate to help anyone in need, always with a kind word or quip to lift your spirits,” Feinstein said. “My favorite times with Ellen were our weekend dinners in Washington, where we’d laugh and trade stories over a glass of California wine.”

Eric Swalwell, a Bay Area congressman who interned for Tauscher in 2001, said that his former boss “broke the mold again and again” before even being elected to the House.

“She was one of the youngest and first women to become a member of the New York Stock Exchange. She created the Tauscher Foundation in 1980 to help California and Texas schools buy computer equipment for primary school students. She created the ChildCare Registry, the first national research service to help parents verify the background of child-care workers,” Swalwell said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom also issued a statement Tuesday.

“For decades, Ellen tackled some of our most pressing challenges – from access to child-care to nuclear arms control – with grace and heart,” the governor said. "She blazed trails in business and in the halls of Congress and she held her own at some of the world's toughest negotiating tables.”

While serving in the House, Tauscher established herself as a centrist Democrat, and she chaired the New Democrat Coalition, a caucus of 65 moderate House Democrats. She also served on the Armed Services Committee and chaired its Strategic Forces subcommittee, which put her in position to oversee the country's nuclear weapons stockpile and support the two national labs in her district, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the California campus of Sandia National Laboratories.

In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) praised Tauscher for her commitment to nuclear nonproliferation and arms control, which she said “strengthened our democratic institutions and kept America safe.”

On the heels of the 2016 presidential election, Tauscher launched a super PAC called Fight Back California, contributing to the effort that flipped seven congressional seats and handed control of the House of Representatives to Democrats.

Some of the incumbents she helped target had been colleagues on Capitol Hill. “This isn’t personal,” Tauscher told The Times in 2017. “But the fact is that I’m a Californian, and they don’t vote in the interest of my state.”

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Tauscher was only two years into her 12-year term on the UC Board of Regents, but she brought crucial knowledge to chairing the UC Board of Governors of Los Alamos National Security and Lawrence Livermore National Security, according to UC President Janet Napolitano.

“Ellen was a close colleague and a dear friend — generous with her knowledge and her time, and a true example of grace under pressure,” Napolitano said in a statement.

In a Facebook post on April 7, Tauscher opened up about her struggle with pneumonia, which she said was compounded by esophageal cancer surgery in 2010.

“I am on the mend; but they tell me it will be slow-going to get me back to 100%. And as you know, that’s the level at which I like to operate,” she said.

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