Janet Ann Napolitano is the oldest of three children to Jane Marie Winer and Leonard Michael Napolitano. With her brother Leonard and sister Nancy, she was raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico where her father was the Dean of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. In school, young Janet excelled in the arts, becoming quite accomplished at playing clarinet and guitar. She graduated from Sandia High School in 1975, where she was voted most likely to succeed. Napolitano attended Santa Clara University in California where she graduated as valedictorian with a degree in political science. From there, she attended the University of Virginia Law School receiving a Doctor of Jurisprudence. She then traveled to Arizona to serve as a law clerk for Judge Mary Schroder of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. After then, she joined the law firm of Lewis and Roca and settled in Phoenix, Arizona.
In 1991, Janet Napolitano entered the public stage serving as attorney for Anita Hill during Senate testimony against then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment while she worked for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Napolitano U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona. While there, she pushed for innovative gun laws including the Youth Handgun Safety Act making it illegal to transfer a handgun to a minor knowing that the weapon is to be used in a crime. She also prosecuted one of the first Violence Against Women cases in the country prosecuting offenders who crossed state lines to commit acts of domestic violence. Napolitano also led a cooperative effort of local, state, and federal prosecutors to bolster prosecution of violent and dangerous offenders and prosecuted the first "Three Strikes" cases in Arizona.
In 1998, Janet Napolitano ran and won the office of Arizona Attorney General where she focused on consumer protection and general law enforcement. She defended Arizona’s death penalty law all the way to the Supreme Court. The law allowed capital punishment cases to be heard before a judge, not a jury. The Court however, disagreed stating such cases must be heard before a jury. While Attorney General she gained national attention again when she spoke at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. This was just three weeks after having a mastectomy for cancer she’d developed in 1998.
Governor of Arizona
Janet Napolitano ran for governor of Arizona in 2002 as a pro-choice centrist and won by a very slim margin. During her campaign, she identified the state’s challenges as education, children, border control, and Arizona’s rapid growth rate. As governor, Napolitano converted a $1 billion deficit in 2003 to a $300 million surplus without raising taxes. She supported voluntary all-day kindergarten programs and historic pay raises and training for school teachers. She also directed school boards to issue construction plans for building 21st century schools. Governor Napolitano was also an outspoken critic of the federal government’s immigration policies and pushed for tougher penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants. She implemented one of the first state homeland security strategies in the nation and opened a counter-terrorism center.
Janet Napolitano also made a reputation for herself setting a record for the total number of vetoes in a single session (58) and during her second term as governor she issued record 115 vetoes. Among these was a bill to crack down on employers who hired illegal aliens and authorized police to arrest illegal immigrants on trespassing charges for merely being in the state. She said the bill was too weak at penalizing guilty employers and enforcing the trespassing law would overwhelm police.
Secretary of Homeland Security
On January 11, 2008, Janet Napolitano endorsed then-Senator Barack Obama for president. After the election, she was appointed to the Obama-Biden transition team and in January, 2009, was nominated and confirmed as United States Secretary of Homeland Security. While serving as Secretary, she has forged new partnerships with international allies and expanded information sharing with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
However, in her first year as Secretary, Napolitano suffered from several bouts of “misspeak.” In April, 2009, she incorrectly claimed the 9/11 terrorists entered the United States from Canada, provoking an angry response from the Canadian ambassador. That same month, the Department of Homeland Security produced an internal threat assessment report that cited "disgruntled returning military veterans" as possible targets for recruitment by right-wing extremist groups. Napolitano made multiple apologies for any offense experienced by veterans in the assessment and promised to meet to discuss the report. The American Legion criticized the report while the Veterans of Foreign Wars praised it, though they agreed it could have been worded differently.
Then, in late December, 2009, in an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley discussing the attempted terrorist attack of the “underwear bomber” who tried to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear on a flight landing in Detroit, Napolitano claimed “the system worked.” She later indicated her remarks were taken out of context and that that the system indeed had failed, and extensive review was under way.
Secretary Janet Napolitano continues to work on counterterrorism, border security and making sure the country is prepared and ready to respond to any threat. She continues to build upon the skills and resources of the young Department of Homeland Security deploying the necessary science and technology, forging partnerships between state, local and tribal governments, and the private sector to make the Department better equipped to protect the nation.
Biography courtesy of BIO.com
How to Cite this Page:
Janet Napolitano. (2013). The History Channel website. Retrieved 7:08, December 7, 2013, from http://www.history.com/topics/janet-napolitano.
Janet Napolitano. [Internet]. 2013. The History Channel website. Available from: http://www.history.com/topics/janet-napolitano [Accessed 7 Dec 2013].
“Janet Napolitano.” 2013. The History Channel website. Dec 7 2013, 7:08 http://www.history.com/topics/janet-napolitano.
“Janet Napolitano,” The History Channel website, 2013, http://www.history.com/topics/janet-napolitano [accessed Dec 7, 2013].
“Janet Napolitano,” The History Channel website, http://www.history.com/topics/janet-napolitano (accessed Dec 7, 2013).
Janet Napolitano [Internet]. The History Channel website; 2013 [cited 2013 Dec 7] Available from: http://www.history.com/topics/janet-napolitano.
Janet Napolitano, http://www.history.com/topics/janet-napolitano (last visited Dec 7, 2013).
Janet Napolitano. The History Channel website. 2013. Available at: http://www.history.com/topics/janet-napolitano. Accessed Dec 7, 2013.