March 10, 2022

Celebrating Female Legislative Champions for Preservation Priorities

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works closely with many lawmakers on Capitol Hill to advance preservation policy priorities. In the spirit of Women’s History Month, below are profiles of three key female legislative champions—Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL).

While not a comprehensive list, the National Trust would also like to recognize the work of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), as well as all the female members of the House of Representatives Historic Preservation Caucus. The preservation community is fortunate to have an abundance of female legislative champions.

Representative Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM)

Freshman lawmaker Representative Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM) represents New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, serving the state’s northern half. Her district contains a significant Native American tribal presence, including seventeen Native American Pueblos, the Jicarilla Apache Nation, and the Navajo Nation.

The congresswoman has long been a supporter of historic preservation. In 2015, President Obama nominated her to serve as vice chair of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. In the House, she serves on the Natural Resources Committee and is the chair of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States and a member of the Subcommittee on National Parks Forests and Public Lands.

At the National Trust’s PastForward 2021 Conference Opening Plenary, Rep. Leger Fernández stated, “My experience in cultural preservation informs so much of what I'm doing in Congress… I understand the importance behind preserving and protecting our most precious natural resources: our lands, our waterways, and our historic monuments.”

Opening Plenary: Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández (PastForward 2021)

In July 2021, Rep. Leger Fernández successfully advanced an amendment to the INVEST in America Act (H.R. 3684) to permanently authorize the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) and double its authorized funding level to $300 million annually. The HPF supports our nation’s preservation programs, including State and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices funding to implement the National Historic Preservation Act as well as the administration of the federal historic tax credit, nominations to the National Register of Historic Places, and several competitive grant programs. Unfortunately, the final, bipartisan infrastructure bill did not include the HPF reauthorization provisions.

Undaunted, Congresswoman Leger Fernández is demonstrating her resolve to enhancing the HPF. In February 2022, she and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the Historic Preservation Enhancement Act (H.R. 6589), which would permanently authorize funding for the HPF, increase its authorization from $150 to $300 million annually, and ensure $300 million is appropriated each year. HPF’s authorization level has not increased since its establishment in 1976, and it has never been fully appropriated during that time. Urge your representatives to cosponsor and support the legislation.

Rep. Leger Fernández is also passionate about protecting sacred tribal lands. Her district contains the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Chaco Canyon is widely considered one of America’s most important cultural landscapes due to its stunning examples of Chacoan architecture and many resources that tell the story of a thousand years of human history in the region. Energy development and drilling threaten the park’s integrity. Rep. Leger Fernández is advocating for permanent protections against mineral and fossil fuel development on this culturally significant landscape. In November 2021, President Biden proposed a two year-pause and a possible 20-year moratorium of new federal oil and gas leasing within a 10-mile radius around Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)

Senator Susan Collins has served the state of Maine as a U.S. Senator for over twenty-five years. In 2020, she won a historic re-election victory, becoming the first-ever Republican female Senator to win a 5th term. Senator Collins is passionate about small business development and job creation.

For many years, she has championed the federal Historic Tax Credit (HTC), a program that encourages private sector investment in the rehabilitation and reuse of historic buildings. Senator Collins has served as co-lead on numerous bills that would enhance and expand the credit. The senator has stated, “I have long supported the Historic Tax Credit, a proven tool for revitalizing communities and catalyzing economic development in Maine and across the nation.”

In Maine, the federal HTC has supported numerous projects, from the renovation of the former Eastland Hotel in Portland to the redevelopment of the Moosehead Manufacturing Mill in Dover-Foxcroft and the revitalization of a 150-year-old opera house, Johnson Hall, in Gardiner. According to the National Park Service, in Maine, there have been a total of 124 HTC projects between fiscal years 2001 and 2020, leveraging an estimated $553,737,997 in total development.

In 2018, Senator Collins visited Gardiner’s Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center, a 150-year-old opera house, who utilized federal Historic Tax Credits to renovate its theater facility. | Photo courtesy Senator Collins’ Twitter

During the 2017 tax rewrite, Senator Collins successfully advocated for the retention of the twenty-percent HTC in the new tax code. As a result of her efforts, a coalition of support for the HTC ensured the longstanding tax incentive was not eliminated. Since then, the senator has continued to advance legislation that would modernize the HTC. In June 2021, Senator Collins joined with Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to introduce the Senate version of the Historic Tax Credit Growth and Opportunity Act (HTC-GO) (S. 2266). The bill would bring more value to Historic Tax Credit (HTC) projects, improve access to the credit, and encourage investment in smaller rehabilitation projects. Encourage your members of Congress to support this legislation.

Representative Terri Sewell (D-AL)

Representative Terri Sewell (D-AL) is in her sixth term representing the 7th Congressional District of Alabama. She is the first Black woman to serve in the Alabama Congressional delegation. The 7th Congressional District is also known as America’s Civil Rights District as it covers many locations pertinent to the movement, including Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Selma, and portions of Montgomery. Congresswoman Sewell has worked diligently in Congress to recognize and preserve these sites to tell the story of the African American Civil Rights Movement.

Rep. Sewell is a strong supporter of the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund competitive grant programs. She has diligently worked to support the African American Civil Rights Grant Program and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Grant Program, and has successfully pursued amendments to the Interior Appropriations bills to increase funding for these important preservation programs.

Rep Sewell stated, “I have always believed that the extraordinary history of Alabama’s 7th district can drive economic revitalization and promote its heritage tourism to create jobs. This money is necessary, not only for the preservation of physical sites and markers, but also to preserve the history of African Americans’ struggle for civil rights in the state of Alabama and that struggle’s impact on our nation.”

Representative Terri Sewell with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland

The congresswoman was also instrumental in creating the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. In 2016, Rep. Sewell introduced legislation (H.R. 4817), supported by the entire Alabama congressional delegation, to establish the National Civil Rights Monument in Birmingham. Later that year, Rep. Sewell hosted the then-Secretary of the Interior and National Park Service Director to tour Birmingham’s historic sites. These efforts culminated in the decision by President Obama to exercise his authority under the Antiquities Act to establish the Birmingham Civil Rights National Historical Park as a unit of the National Park System. The National Monument preserves and interprets the events, stories, and places associated with the nonviolent struggle against racial segregation in Birmingham.

Outside of championing the preservation of civil rights history, Rep. Sewell also sits on the House Committee on Ways and Means and its Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures which oversees the Historic Tax Credit. Alongside Reps. Darin LaHood (R-IL), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Brian Higgins (D-NY), she introduced the Historic Tax Credit Growth and Opportunity Act (HTC-GO) (H.R. 2294) in April 2021.

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Hanna Stark was the public policy communication coordinator at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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