Born on February 6, 1945 in Camden, New Jersey, Bonnie Watson Coleman served as director of the New Jersey Department of Transportation from 1974-80. She also worked a number of years for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, holding such titles as bureau chief and assistant commissioner. She earned a BA from Thomas Edison State College in 1985, and studied political science at Rutgers University for a period of time.
Coleman became politically active in 1998, when she began a 16-year stint in the New Jersey State General Assembly. In 2014 she was elected, as a Democrat, to represent New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she is a member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
In a May 2014 campaign event, NJTV anchor Mike Schneider asked Coleman and other congressional candidates whether they were in favor of Voter ID laws. Lamenting that she “thought we [had] won these battles already,” Coleman said: “You shouldn’t have to walk around with some government-issued ID that says you’re eligible to vote.”
Coleman supported President Barack Obama’s November 2014 executive action on deportation, known as Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), which made millions of illegal immigrants eligible for work permits, tax rebates, Social Security cards, and protection-from-deportation. In March 2015, Coleman stated that Obama’s edict constituted “sound policy” that would serve to “fill the gap left by House Republicans’ refusal to bring bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform legislation up for a vote.” Further, Coleman denounced the “Republican fear mongering” that was “depriving these individuals [illegal immigrants] of their chance to earn the American Dream.”
In January 2015, Coleman objected strenuously when Republican House Speaker John Boehner—without first asking President Obama for his approval—invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress on March 3rd about the gravity of the growing Iranian nuclear threat and his “profound disagreement” with the deal that the Obama Administration was pursuing with Iran. Coleman was one of numerous Black Caucus members who announced that because of Netanyahu’s act of “disrespect” against Obama, they would be boycotting the speech.
In April 2015, Coleman assailed Republican leaders in Congress for their “obsession” with repealing the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which she described as “something that’s already working in a big way and impacting positively the rising cost of health care.”
In January 2017, Coleman was one of dozens of Congressional Democrats who boycotted President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
In an October 2017 interview with SiriusXM’s Dean Obeidallah, Coleman described Trump as an “absolutely disgusting” and “incompetent” president who: “makes me sick to my stomach”; “has no depth of thinking, no compassion, no moral core”; and “is an embarrassment as President of the United States of America.”
When Coleman attended President Trump’s third “State Of The Union” speech in February 2019, she invited Victorina Morales, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, as her guest. The congresswoman said in a tweet: “Ms. Morales, an undocumented immigrant, was fired from the Trump National Golf Club, and has since campaigned for rights and fair treatment for undocumented immigrants.”
In a June 9, 2020 interview on SiriusXM, Coleman accused President Trump and White House adviser Stephen Miller of being “absolute racists.” She said:
“Are you kidding me? How do you have a Donald Trump as president of the United States of America? How do you have a white supremacist like Stephen Miller in there so close to Trump, advising him in his ear, creating and putting a fire on all of this hatred that we have in this country, and that has just been manifested in vile ways [a reference to a May 25 incident where a black Minneapolis man named George Floyd had died after being subjected to physical abuse by a white police officer]? How do you, what do you expect from them? I expect them to get up there and talk about nothing. Because they don’t care about black folks, they don’t think that we have any value. They are absolute racists, in what they are, and who they are, and what they say and what they do. And their racism and their hatefulness for other people is manifested in the policies that this president has signed into through his executive orders.”
On July 19, 2022, Coleman was one of at least 17 House Democrats who were arrested outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, where they were attending an abortion-rights rally to protest the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Those arrested included the following:
Coleman holds conservatives in deep contempt and believes that their financial expenditures on political campaigns pose a grave threat to the well-being of the United States. Too many Americans, she laments, are “intimidated by the money that is being spent by those who have such right-wing, ultra-conservative, mean-spirited, selfish interests.”
Because she regards the U.S. as a nation that has been awash in racism and sexism since its inception, Coleman has deprecated one of the country’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence: “This does not apply to me as a woman,” she says, “this does not apply to me as a minority. In our hearts we know this is meaningless.”
Claiming that women today “are paid [77 cents] to every dollar earned by men regardless of job choice,” Coleman alleges that this “pay disparity” severely “impairs” the ability of “women with low incomes and single mothers” to remain financially solvent. To address this inequity, she more-than-once has sponsored legislation designed to help women “uncover [evidence of] pay disparity” and sue employers “that deny women equal pay.” In reality, sex-based wage discrimination has been illegal since the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
Coleman is a staunch proponent of what she terms “the green revolution,” which she defines as the promotion of “common-sense, sustainable energy policies through solar, wind, and cutting our dependence on fossil fuels.”
During her time in Congress, Coleman has voted:
During her years in the New Jersey State Senate, Coleman voted:
For additional information on Coleman’s voting record on a range of key issues during her years as a legislator, click here.