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No Rest for Fowler

Investigative Panel, Law Firm Job Keep Former Rep. Busy

Among the souvenirs in her office, ranging from autographed pictures of past presidents to commemorative plaques, a colorful picture of a brightly smiling group of women sits beside Tillie Fowler’s desk.

“Those are the women from my book club,” said Fowler, a former Republican Congresswoman from Florida. “It’s been going strong for 20 years.”

Although the 60-year-old Fowler is still close with her 14 fellow club members — the women made a trip to Washington to see their friend in action just before she left office — she hasn’t had much time for leisure reading. After retiring from Congress in January 2001, she immediately joined the law firm Holland & Knight and instead has been reading briefs and legal documents.

In May, she took on an even bigger task: She was appointed to chair a seven-member panel investigating allegations of sexual assault at the Air Force Academy. The panel was created by Congress to examine the academy and whether its leaders knew of and ignored the allegations.

The panel made a two-and-a-half day trip to Colorado Springs, Colo., to interview many of the female students sexually assaulted at the academy.

“It was certainly very moving to hear those first-hand accounts,” said Fowler, who has two daughters. “Those young women definitely impacted our report.”

In September, Fowler testified before the House and Senate Armed Services committees on the panel’s final report, which included 21 recommendations for the Air Force Academy. The panel recommended that accusers be guaranteed confidentiality if they come forward with allegations, and in October the Air Force reversed course and said it will grant that confidentiality.

Although the panel has now dissolved, Fowler said she is keeping a watchful eye on the situation.

“This is something I don’t want to sit on a shelf,” she said.

Following Dad’s Footsteps

Fowler, who represented Florida’s 4th district for eight years and rose to be vice chairwoman of the House GOP Conference, says her favorite thing about life after Congress is having more control over her schedule. She splits time between the Sunshine State and Washington, D.C., making the two-hour flight to Jacksonville every weekend.

“I don’t have to worry about delayed votes or missing my flights anymore,” she said, laughing.

The Georgia native moved to Jacksonville, her husband’s hometown, in 1971.

Fowler, whose father served in the Georgia state Legislature as a Democrat for more than 40 years, didn’t have political ambitions for herself until 1985. That’s when friends encouraged Fowler, who had stopped working to raise her two daughters, to run for Jacksonville City Council. She ran as a Republican and won.

“My dad wanted me to make sure I wanted to run as a Republican,” Fowler said. “But I was happy to show people I could win without being a good ol’ boy.”

When she was elected to Congress in 1992 just two weeks before her 50th birthday, Fowler said she looked at the victory as the first landmark of the second half of her life.

“I’ve never believed in having a strict life plan,” she says.

A Bush Appointment?

Since she left the Hill after a self-imposed term limit, she’s continued that philosophy. A former House Armed Services Committee member, Fowler was floated as a possible Navy secretary when President Bush first took office and as Army secretary earlier this year.

Last year, she belonged to the commission studying the future of the U.S. aerospace industry.

And Fowler also serves as chairwoman of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, which advises the secretary on strategic planning issues.

“I have a great deal of commitment to this issue,” Fowler said. “I still want to be sure to keep my fingers in the issues I cared about while in Congress.”

She still remains involved in other aspects of politics as well: She serves on Holland & Knight’s political action committee and women’s initiative group.

“When that bug bites, you just can’t get rid of it,” Fowler said.

Oddly enough, Fowler never worked as an attorney before now, despite receiving her law degree from Emory University in 1967. The Southerner, who still speaks with a soft accent, came to D.C. right out of school in search of work. She was offered a position with her district’s Congressman, then-Rep. Robert Stephens (D-Ga.), and took the job, forgoing a trip to Europe her parents had promised for long hours and legal pads.

Today she works at Holland & Knight alongside two of her former staffers, Chief of Staff David Gilliland and Press Secretary Tom Alexander. Gilliland’s office is just two doors down from his former boss’s office.

Fowler’s next big project is Thanksgiving, when her two daughters, ages 28 and 30, her husband, Buck, and his parents will enjoy a family weekend in Florida.

“It’s been a great life after Congress,” she said, admitting she wouldn’t mind more time to read her favorite mystery novels. “I would like to read the ‘Da Vinci Code.’”

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