Issue One remembers the life of ReFormer Elizabeth Furse

  • Katya Ehresman

Issue One mourns the passing of former Rep. Elizabeth Furse (D-OR) and offers our sincerest condolences to her friends, family, and constituents as we remember and celebrate her life of public service. Rep. Furse brought extensive experience, as well as a commitment to domestic reforms and international peace, to Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus, a bipartisan coalition of more than 200 former members of Congress, governors, and Cabinet officials advocating for solutions to fix our broken political system.

Rep. Furse dedicated her life to improving the lives of others starting from a young age as an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa and later becoming active in Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers movement upon moving to the United States. Prior to serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, Furse led the Oregon Legal Services Restoration Program for Native American Tribes, winning the prestigious Durfee Award in 1986 in recognition for her leadership in restoring tribal sovereignty to the Klamath Tribes. Furse also co-founded the Oregon Peace Institute to promote nonviolent conflict resolution.

Furse carried her commitment to social justice and peace issues into Congress, representing the people of Oregon’s 1st congressional district, where she served on a variety of committees, including Armed Services, Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs. Furse was also the first naturalized U.S. citizen born in Africa to be elected to Congress and only the third woman to represent Oregon in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Former House Majority Leader Les AuCoin (D-OR), also a member of our ReFormers Caucus and the retiring predecessor of Furse’s congressional seat, said in a statement on Furse’s passing, “Elizabeth was a champion for world peace, protecting nature and other underdogs, and made life-changing contributions to indigenous people who were here long before us… her work is immortal.” While in office, Furse’s daughter developed diabetes and, upon hearing how expensive the testing and treatment was for her daughter, co-founded the Diabetes Caucus with another future ReFormers Caucus member, Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA), and passed critical Medicare expansion laws. Furse’s daughter, Amanda Briggs, remembers her mother’s passion for justice as “unwavering” and noted the “importance of having a voice — a voice against power if necessary.” 

Furse retired from the House in January 1999 but nevertheless continued in her lifetime career of public service. Upon vacating her seat in Congress, Furse worked as the director of tribal programs at the Institute for Tribal Government in Portland. During her time on the ReFormers Caucus, Furse signed onto letters urging the Senate to include money for safe and secure elections in the first coronavirus relief bill and calling for a return to bipartisanship and strong congressional leadership. 

Issue One is grateful for former Rep. Furse’s lifelong fight for representation and justice, and her commitment to bipartisanship when advocating for reforms. Her exceptional career of public service will not be forgotten.