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First Elected at 18, Louisiana's Karen Carter Peterson Now Leads the Democratic Party

State Senator, La.

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New Orleans native Karen Carter Peterson’s life in politics started early. At 18, she ran for her first elected position, a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. At 29, she was elected to the Louisiana House, where she served for 10 years, the final two as speaker pro tempore. And in 2010, Carter Peterson successfully ran for state Senate.

Her legislative initiatives have included pushing for education reform, including to reestablish local control over the state-managed New Orleans public schools. She’s also been an advocate for Medicaid expansion, and she unsuccessfully pushed for a tax increase on tobacco products to help fund health programs.

Along the way, Carter Peterson remained an active leader in Democratic party politics. In 2012, she ousted an incumbent to become the chairperson of the Louisiana Democratic Party -- the first woman, and only the second African-American individual, to hold that position. She’s still in that leadership position today. In 2017, Carter Peterson was elected vice chair of Civic Engagement and Voter Participation at the Democratic National Committee, a position previously held by Donna Brazile.

Read about the Women in Government program and the rest of the honorees.

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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