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Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995


Image of Anthony Lee Coelho
[Office of the Historian]

United States Representative
Democrat of California

Ninety-sixth - One Hundred First Congresses
January 3, 1979 - June 15, 1989

Anthony Coelho was born on June 15, 1942 in Los Baños, Merced County, California. His grandparents were Portuguese immigrants. He attended public schools in Dos Palos, California and in 1964 earned a B.A. degree from Loyola University in Los Angeles. After college Coelho wanted to enter a Jesuit Seminary, but had to put this plan aside when he learned he had epilepsy, since canon law bars epileptics from the priesthood.

From 1965 to 1978 Coelho was a staff member for California Representative B.F. Sisk; by 1970 he had become administrative assistant, and later served as staff director. During this time, he also held other congressional positions, such as House Parking Committee consultant (1971-1974) and staff coordinator for the House Subcommittee on Broadcasting. In addition Coelho was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1976, 1980, 1984, and 1988.

In 1978 Coelho's boss and mentor, Representative B.F. Sisk, retired. With Sisk's support, Coelho was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from California's 15th District. In his first general election he received sixty percent of the vote and was subsequently reelected five times. He served on the House Administration, Interior and Insular Affairs, and Agriculture Committees. From 1984 to 1985 he chaired the Agriculture's Livestock Dairy and Poultry Subcommittee.

In 1981 Coelho took over the Chairmanship of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Under his leadership, the committee was transformed into a very effective organization, dramatically increasing contributions from Political Action Committees. In 1985 Coelho became the first elected Democratic Party Whip.

In May 1989 Coelho announced his resignation as Majority Whip after questions arose about his personal finances, and one month later he resigned his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He moved to New York where he is an investment banker. A strong advocate for people with epilepsy, he is the Chairman of the President's Commission to Employ People With Disabilities. He is also an advisor for the Democratic Party.

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