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Tillie Kidd Fowler

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Tillie Kidd Fowler

Tillie K. Fowler
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 4th district
In office
January 3, 1993 – January 3, 2001
Preceded by Craig T. James
Succeeded by Ander Crenshaw
Personal details
Born (1942-12-23)December 23, 1942
Milledgeville, Georgia
Died March 2, 2005(2005-03-02) (aged 62)
Jacksonville, Florida
Political party Republican

Tillie Kidd Fowler (December 23, 1942 – March 2, 2005) was an American politician who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1993 to 2001.

Early life

Fowler was born in Milledgeville, Georgia in 1942. Her father, Culver Kidd, Jr., served in the Georgia state legislature for 46 years — 16 years in the state house and 30 in the state senate. Her brother, Rusty Kidd, would later become a member of the George House in 2009. She earned her undergraduate degree from Emory University in 1964, and earned a law degree from Emory University School of Law three years later. Her father had pushed her to attend law school because she was a fairly outspoken woman by the standards of the time. She was admitted to the bar soon after getting her degree, but no Atlanta-area law firm would hire a woman at the time. However, U.S. Congressman Robert G. Stephens, Jr. of Georgia hired her as a legislative assistant for three years. She then worked as general counsel in the White House Office of Consumer Affairs until 1971.

She married in 1971 and moved to Jacksonville, Florida that year, where she changed her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican much to her father's chagrin. She was active in volunteer activities and the area Junior League, serving as the Jacksonville chapter's president from 1982 to 1983. She was elected to the Jacksonville City Council in 1985. In 1989, Fowler became the council's president. She gained infamy during her tenure as president for ordering the arrest of three black councilors in order to get a quorum for passing the city budget. The three blacks were angry when their districts were denied funding for sewage and drainage projects. Fowler spent several years denying that her actions were racially motivated.

U.S. Congresswoman

In 1992, Fowler won the Republican nomination for Florida's 4th Congressional District, based in Jacksonville. It had been renumbered from the 3rd after Florida gained four districts after the 1990 United States Census. She was initially expected to run against 22-term incumbent Charlie Bennett, the second-longest serving member of the House and the longest-serving member of either house of Congress in Florida history. Bennett seemed to have an unbreakable hold on the seat; Fowler was only the seventh Republican to put up a challenge to him.

Early on, Fowler hammered Bennett as a politician who had been in Congress for too long (he had first won election a few days before her sixth birthday) and promised to serve no more than four terms in the House. Her slogan was "eight (years) is enough." Shortly after the campaign began, Bennett's wife fell ill and he abruptly announced his retirement. The Democrats drafted state senator Mattox Hair as a replacement candidate, but Hair didn't have nearly enough time to overcome a severe financial disadvantage and lost to Fowler by almost 13 points. Fowler became only the third representative of the 4th District since it was created in 1943 (it was the 2nd District until 1967, when it was renumbered the 3rd) and the first Republican. She was also the first Florida Republican woman elected to the House in her own right (Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of the Miami area first came to the House in 1989 to finish out the unexpired term of the late Claude Pepper). She was reelected three more times, all unopposed. This was largely because the Jacksonville area had been under Republican influence for some time (the city has only voted for the Democratic presidential nominee once since 1972 even though Democrats still have a substantial majority in registration) and most of Jacksonville's blacks had been drawn into the majority-black 3rd District after the 1990 census.

Fowler's voting record was relatively moderate by Southern Republican standards. She was moderately pro-choice on abortion and refused to take money from the National Rifle Association. Her main interest, however, was in defense issues — not surprising given the large number of naval bases in the Jacksonville area. As the only Republican woman on the House Armed Services Committee, she blasted the Clinton administration's cuts in defense spending and subsequent increases in spending for peacekeeping missions. She tried to head off the shutdown of the naval firing range at Vieques, but was unsuccessful. Her interest in defense issues, as well as her demeanor, earned her the nickname "Steel Magnolia."

Unlike most Republicans elected to Congress during the 1990s, Fowler had very good relations with Democrats. She was one of the few Republicans active in the Congressional Women's Caucus, and refused to campaign against incumbents with whom she had friendly relations. She was also an ardent feminist, vociferously protesting an article in Roll Call in which a picture of Republican women at a press conference only showed their legs and black pumps. She hired Stephanie Kopelousos as an intern in 1993; by 1998 Kopelousos was a senior legislative aide.[1]

Fowler eventually rose to vice-chairwoman of the House Republican Conference (caucus), the number-five position among House Republicans (behind the Speaker, Majority Leader, Majority Whip and Republican Conference chair). This led her to broach the possibility of running for a fifth term in 2000. She came under considerable fire from term limits proponents. One group ran ads in Jacksonville calling her "Slick Tillie," a play on Clinton's nickname of "Slick Willie." Eventually, she decided to honor her original pledge, and didn't run for reelection in 2000.

Post-Congressional Career

Following her tenure in Congress, she joined the prominent Washington law firm of Holland & Knight as a partner. She also served as an advisor to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on operational issues. She frequently lobbied her former colleagues on behalf of Jacksonville during debate over military base realignment and closures. In addition, she chaired the Department of Defense panel responsible for investigating the 2003 US Air Force Academy sexual assault scandal.

In 2001 she was appointed by Congress to the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry.

She died on March 2, 2005 of a brain hemorrhage.


  • Holland & Knight Partner and Former U.S. Representative Tillie K. Fowler Dies
  • Biographical Directory of Congress Entry
  • Tillie Fowler: A Tribute
  • Washington Post story on Fowler's death
Preceded by
Craig T. James
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 4th congressional district

Succeeded by
Ander Crenshaw
Party political offices
Preceded by
Barbara Vucanovich
Secretary of House Republican Conference
Succeeded by
Deborah Pryce
Preceded by
Jennifer Dunn
Vice-Chairman of House Republican Conference

Template:Florida Women's Hall of Fame

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