Sanchez sisters talk about life on Capitol Hill

A pair of cousins have been elected to the U.S. Senate: Democrat Tom Udall of New Mexico and Democrat Mark Udall of Colorado. But relatives on Capitol Hill are nothing new. California boasts of the first sister team in Congress: Democrat Linda Sanchez of Cerritos and Democrat Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove. The Sanchez sisters have teamed up to write a new book. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde reports.

Kitty Felde: If you put Loretta and Linda Sanchez in a room together, familiar family dynamics are front and center. And both of them know it. Just ask Linda about Loretta.

Linda Sanchez: She's obviously my older sister and so those who have older siblings know that they can tend to be a little bossy. Or as Loretta would say, "take charge."

Felde: Linda is sixth out of seven kids. Loretta was born second.

Loretta Sanchez: The birthing order has a lot to do with it, 'cause she's in the younger set of the seven. She in a sense didn't have to blaze the trail.

So I think there's a lot more relaxed feel to the lives that younger siblings tend to live. And that in a sense makes them more, oh, artistic, maybe more progressive, maybe more idealistic.

Felde: The Sanchez family moved to Anaheim when the girls were young, one of the first Latino families in town. Loretta Sanchez says their dad was strict.

Loretta Sanchez: Linda was a chaperone to me for so long when I was dating at age 18 or 19. My father would say – you know – you have to take her along. And date. When I say date, that was just going to the movies. I mean, it wasn't anything like we would imagine today.

Felde: Linda Sanchez had to trick her dad into letting her go away to college.

Linda Sanchez: My father was sort of revolutionary for his generation in that he believed that the girls, not the boys should go to college, but the girls should too. But for girls, that meant going to the local university, which was Cal State University, Fullerton.

Well, Loretta had encouraged me to apply to lots of different colleges, including on the east coast. And when push came to shove, she said go to the best school that you can and financially that I could afford, and that ended up being UC Berkeley.

Well, we couldn't tell my father that I wasn't planning on sticking around and living at home and going to Cal State Fullerton. So my mother and I sort of concocted this conspiracy to go visit relatives up north in Pismo Beach and we kept going.

We went to Berkeley, found me an apartment and arranged everything, paid the deposit for the tuition, came back, and then you know the day before classes, I was packing up my little Datsun B-210 with all my worldly belongings and my father said, "What are you doing?" and I said, "I'm going off to college."

Felde: The girls followed different paths: Loretta got an MBA; Linda a law degree. A dozen years ago, Loretta did the unthinkable: she challenged an incumbent Republican for an Orange County Congressional seat. And won. Barely.

Six years ago, Linda ran for Congress from Cerritos. And won. They became the first sisters ever to serve on Capitol Hill. Their styles are different – Linda's a consensus builder. She says her first year was tough.

Linda Sanchez: Until baseball season rolled around.

Felde: Linda Sanchez is the only female member of the House baseball team. Not softball. Hardball.

Linda Sanchez: And then, surprisingly, once you make friends, really good friends in Congress, things just get so much easier from that point on.

Felde: Loretta's style is more "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" – or what she describes as "problem solving."

Loretta Sanchez: You work as best you can with everybody. And some are more old boy network than others. And sometimes if you can't get them to help you, you go around them, you go over them, you go under them, you blindfold them and shove them down a path away from you. Or whatever it is you have to do to get your stuff done.
Felde: Well, tell me what having a sister on Capitol Hill does for you professionally. I mean, what difference does it make that there's two Sanchez sisters on Capitol Hill?
Linda Sanchez: Well, I think because Loretta and I serve on different committees, often times we can huddle and talk about what is going on. So the information is almost times two. I think that's incredibly helpful, because information helps you navigate what you need to do in Congress.

Loretta always says, and she jokes about this, that you know, having a sister in Congress, if you can't go to a meeting, and your sister goes, you can at least be assured that nobody's going to be talking trash about you because your sister's there. So it's a way of somebody watching your back at all times.

Felde: Loretta says it's not always perfect.

Loretta Sanchez: Sometimes it can be trying. I mean, I'm the older sister. So I walk up all the time, "Is everything OK? Are you doing OK?" Finally my middle sister said to me, "You know, Linda feels like you're interrogating her every time you go into the chamber and it's not – I'm not saying "What's going on in your life?" I'm saying, you know "are you OK?"

Felde: Both sisters were just reelected to Congress. Their book is called: "Dream in Color: How the Sanchez Sisters Are Making History in Congress."