It's like strolling through a canteloupe, down the long and vividly orange corridors of the Dirksen Senate Office Building until you reach the door of Sen. Paula Hawkins.

Behind the door, a Florida family (a total of five deeply tanned constituents) waits to shake the hand of the first woman in the Senate to make it entirely on her own -- no husband, no father, no powerful political dynasty behind her.

The office fills up, The press secretary offers fresh orange juice to callers. A few seconds later the inner door bursts open and the senator from Florida herself appears. Senator Hawkins manages to shake hands with the entire family, ask a motherly question or two of the kids, put a couple of aides on hold, and sweep a reporter and photographer into her office in one deft fusillade of charm.

She leads the way in, a tall, brunette woman so slender she looks fragile enough to snap in a Key West wind. At second glance, willowy is a more apt word than slender: There is a supple, tenuous strength there that may bend in a wind but will not break.

Senator Hawkins takes a seat on the couch, smooths out the skirt of her sage green, puffed-sleeve dress, and asks the photographer to please not to shoot her from that angle because it will look as though the palm behind her is growing out of her head. To the reporter she crows, beginning the interview:

"We passed an amendment this morning." Her eyes, wide, brown, heavily shadowed from lots of mascara and little sleep, sparkle with pride over that one.

Senator Hawkins fuels on work, and this day is the climax of weeks of hard work on day-care legislation she's yearned for longer than you'd guess. How long?

"Since I put my oldest child in nursery school.And she's 30 years old now, so that was a long time coming," says the senator, who is now a grandmother. She joined with three Democratic senators, Howard M. Metzenbaum of Ohio, Paul E. Tsongas of Massachusetts, and Harrison A. Williams Jr. of New Jersey, in sponsoring the bill, which increases the amount of tax credit for household and day-care expenses for parents who work. It also provides a tax credit for employers who provide day care. The bill steamrollered, she says, and passed 94 -1. From the look in Senator Hawkins's eye you suspect that the lone holdout may have earned a Florida grapefruit in his face, Jimmy Cagney style.

She remembers back to the days, as a young mother in Atlanta, when she'd drop off her oldest child at nursery school, drive across town to work, and then come back, in another hour and a half, to pick her up. "I thought something had to be done. . . ." And "I think this is the best of all worlds, because it's an incentive to the business man to have a center where the mother's employed. That's my ultimate goal, so that we don't have to spend a lot of time picking up , dropping off, and there's quality care. And the fathers and mothers can take the children to lunch, like a picnic."

Does she think there ought to be a day-care center to serve Congress? "Oh, yes.And I'd like every agency to have one. I don't want one giant one in the sky, the closer the better, and yet removed from personal supervision. You have your work to do. It would bring about better productivity, too, I know, if you don't have to worry about your children and the type of care they're receiving or how long it's going to take you to pick them up that afternoon."

As conservative Republican Paula Hawkins points out, "A lot of my lifetime's experiences have gone into legislation that I'll be interested in." Currently, that includes legislation on food stamp fraud and an amendment authorizing the FBI to gather and exchange information to help local authorities find missing children. Missing children, she says, are a big problem, especially in Florida. We've got a lot of young people who come there, and because of our climate they don't have to have a place to stay. They can stay on the beach, they hang out, we dont know if they're local people or from Connecticut. It always bothers me, the kids that I see shifting from beach to beach or from coast to coast in my state. It's allright with me if they want to be there, but their parents need to know where they are, and vice versa, 'cause there are so many things that can happen in our world of violence. So I think it would be very helpful to families everywhere to know where their children are, and they should be concerned. We'd know whether there's probable cause to be suspicious, probable cause of violent crime, suspected kidnapping, long before it's an actuality; long before it becomes a statistic in a crime, we could find out, maybe counsel them [the kids] a little bit."

One of the "major lifetime experiences" that will go into her legislation is the experience she amassed as "the fighting housewife from Maitland" who campaigned for sewers and ended up head of the Florida Public Service Commission.

Battling the big utilities at PSC rocketed Mrs. Hawkins to fame in Florida as a consumer-rights champion and led to her successful run for the Senate, after a stint as a vice-president of Air Florida. Working at the PSC has given her lots of ideas for legislation she feels is long overdue on the federal level.

Senator Hawkins believes that the marketplace is the best regulator there is, if everyone is competing under the same rules. "But when you're talking about public utilities which have been declared natural monopolies, then that's a different set of rules. They don't like you to say they're guaranteed a rate of return, but they are. And they keep a double set of books. I think the AT&T case is typical of something that a lot of people never really thought about unless you were in the regulation business on the national level. AT&T really is too big to regulate. The federal government can't regulate it.* There are more of them than there are of us."

Mrs. Hawkins has a few shocks in store for the electric utilities: "They need better regulation, much tighter regulation. It's rather sloppily done, to tell the truth." Does she have any legislation for that up her puffed sleeve? "Not right now . . . [but] I have a list," she says with a voice that's like frost warnings in the orange groves.

You have to understand about Paula Hawkins's lists. They're her secret weapon. They're the steam that fuels the dynamo. She is talking in that rat-a-tat-tat voice of hers with the sandy edges, the fastest drawl in Florida: "Well, I've always believed in the good fairy, but I also believe that it takes a lot of muscle and burning the midnight oil to have all your wishes come true. I make a wish list every morning of what I would like to have done in the Senate that day if I were in charge, and I also make another list of what it would take to get that done, attempted trade-offs." On the top of her wish list that day: the day-care amendment. On the top of her wish list every day is a standing item: getting high interest rates down. It's a special problem in her state, where building is such a big business.

It would be foolish to say that Paula Hawkins approaches her job just like the 98 men in the Senate (Nancy Kassebaum [R] of Kansas is the only other woman). When negotiations on the child-care legislation reached an impasse one day, one of the senators suggested cutting the bill in half and another noted that was a "Solomon decision." Mrs. Hawkins said, "yes, but if you'll recall your biblical studies, the real mother objected [to Solomon's decision to cut a baby in half, giving half to each woman who claimed the child as hers], and I object. I am the real mother."

She is the real mother, not only of some legislation dear to her heart, but of three grown children -- daughters Genean and Kelley and a son, Kevin -- and the grandmother of six. She is also the wife of a successful electronics engineer, Eugene Hawkins, part owner and president of Hutto-Hawkins Perego Inc., an electronics company. She didn't graduate from Utah State herself, but she helped put her husband through graduate school with her modeling and secretarial skills; she is probably the only senator who takes shorthand notes at committee hearings.

As a mother, Senator Hawkins has battled adversity: as a child her son, Kevin , was diagnosed as having a crippling illness. He was hospitalized for a year and needed special care while recovering.

Part of his care was swimming for therapy, and daughter Ginean, whose chores included cleaning the pool, remembers that her mother ran a tight ship. "There were strict rules, and if we didn't follow them, we were put on restriction." Ginean's job included keeping the pool chlorinated and clean enough so that it didn't turn green. She'd wake up in the morning, hoping that the pool wouldn't be green, and she'd be grounded from going to a party or dance. Ginean McKinnon , who worked as a chief legislative assistant to Rep. L. A. (Skip) Bafalis (R) of Florida while raising four small children, assesses her mother as "bright, energetic, determined." It was that determination, says Mrs. McKinnon, that has swept Mrs. Hawkins through a life of public service up to the Senate. "She has a real aversion for injustice. When it would occur she couldn't tolerate it, she work at it until it was exposed and corrected. On the PSC she was a fighter , not just an iconoclast. She put things back together again with a positive touch. That is the real Paula Hawkins, the watchdog, saying let's make sure it's fair. That's how she was able to accomplish the things she did in Florida. People identified with the kind of person she is. They expected the person they wanted fighting for them. That's how she got there."

The fact that there was a big split in the Florida Democratic Party after a pitched battle over the primary may also have helped to make her the first Republican senator since Reconstruction. During her tenure at the Public Service Commission she forced utilities to refund thousands of dollars to consumers for ineffective utiliyt service, established a WATS line so citizens could call in their complaints free, opened sessions up to the public, and challenged every rate increase. The first thing she did on being elected to the Senate was to run a coupon in the local papers asking for citizen opinions on Reagan budget cuts. Thirty thousans people responded in the first four or five days alone. Today her office mail runs close to 2,000 letters a day.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R) of Utah, who works with her on the Senate Labor Subcommittee, describes her as brilliant, effective, and tough in her new job. "She kept after me on the Cuban refugee problem like a bulldog," says Hatch, "until we could find a way to resolve the problem. She didn't give me a minute's rest until, prodded by her, I got that $59 million [in refugee assistance] for Florida. She never let up on me till I gave her state some consideration" for the deluge of refugees who left Cuba for Florida in boats by the thousands.

"On the Cuban rpoblem, I think it took a woman to figure out what had to be done. She was worried about their families and about their health, their care." Hatch notes that Sen. Hawkins, though a freshman, "has the guts" to stand up to some of the mainline senators. When she and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts had to to meet to prepare for hearings on the National Cancer Institute and the Department of Education, a Kennedy aide phoned to say the senator was expecting her in his office. "I'm the chairman, tell him to come here," said Sen. Hawkins, who chairs the Labor Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. And so he did.

Although Paula Hawkins is often described in print as a tigress, a battler, a scrapper, she does not give that impression in person. This is not a feisty woman or a virago, or even the Senate's answer to conservative gadfly Phyllis Schlafly, although she shares Schlafly's views on the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion. (She's anti both). Senator Hawkins comes across as an outspoken, determined, but warm woman, more weary than fierce.

She admits the pace of the Senate job is brutal, says she sleeps only a few hours a night, works a marathon day, and had no furniture for months in her two-bedroom apartment at the Watergate except a bed and chair until an aide went out and bought some for her. She's been in the living room of the apartment only twice since May; she's either working, sleeping, or at home weekends with her husband "recharging batteries" at the $250,000 house she designed in Winter Park.Weekends there generally include her idea of relaxing: rooting around among the hibiscus and roses in the garden she loves, jogging, working out on a trampoline, making speeches, giving a dinner party for 18 (broiled chicken and tomatoes).

A friend and supporter who has known her since 1974 says she never stops, she's in perpetual motion, and that the very drive which is such an asset can also be a potential problem. "She does push herself hard, and her staff has got to watch out that she does not become pushed beyond a certain point. She's so much in demand, if they don't make her take time off she would be worn out," says her former campaign manager, Don Weidener.

When he first met Paula Hawkins he was a player representing consumer interests before the Florida Public service Commission. Arguing before the commission, he found her "inscrutable -- it's very difficult to know what's going on in her mind when she's talking or asking questions." Senator Hawkins hired him away to become her assistant for a year and a half, and years later when she decided to run for the Senate he took on her campaign. Weidener, now a confidential assistant to the US secretary of agriculture, finds her an intelligent and witty woman -- as well as a very demanding one, who works hard and expects those around her to do the same.

Nor is she awed by the Senate. "I haven't seen too many characteristics of personality on the floor of the Senate that i haven't seen manifest in your home with your children," Senator Hawkins says. "They're just human beings . . . You get the feeling that this is a thankless business. The hours are grueling, the mental strain is severe, the demands on your time are beyond all description." Still, the political temperament surfaces, and as one other woman legislator has said, there are times when members of Congress act as though they need their milk and cookies. "And there are times," the senator says, "when I want to send 'em to their room. Not only give 'em milk and cookies, but also, 'Go to your room; how dare you put that many people out?' You know there are 99 other senators, with all kinds of ways in action. . . ." She marvels that the "work product is as large as it is and as good as it is, considering everyone's star."

As one of two women in the Senate, she says she's quite aware of the male bonding and camaraderie. "It doesn't matter whether you're in the Senate or business. Wherever you are, it's still a male-dominated society, and it will be generations before that changes." Just as much of a challenge is the venerable traditions of the Senate (she has been stopped for entering the "senators only" elevator) and the unwritten rules. Like how to introduce a bill.

With the candor that has become her trademark, Mrs. Hawkins admits that she made a mistake introducing her bill to amend the Food Stamp Act, designed to reduce fraud: A felony conviction for illegal use or false information involving more than $100 in food stamps would result in a six-month to five-year jail sentence; grocers or traffickers in illegally acquired food stamps could get one to five years. Mrs. Hawkins unfortunately announced this severe legislation for food stamp abuse at a sumptuous luncheon, including New York strip steaks and asparagus, for which members of the food industry reportedly picked up the $1, 500 tab.

That paradox resulted in a bad press and a lot of criticism. She says of the luncheon: "That was a terrible error. [We had] no overview of how that would be perceived by the media . . . . [They] have gotten caught up in style vs. substance. The substance of what I said should be looked at, and the actual fact, that legislation got introduced and passed in the farm bill and that a freshman got it done, should be saluted rather than constantly reading about the poor judgment of the setting for the introduction." She was asked about the substance, whether the legislation might harshly penalize food stamp recipients who make an honest mistake on their application. Her answer: "They're not hard to fill out . . . I'm for stating it honestly and we'll have an officer come by to see if it's accurate and then be helpful in telling you this is not accurate. It's not a policeman who will come by and lock you up if you made a mistake. Those who make an honest mistake will be corrected, and we'll have more money to help more people." She cites the 21 percent fraud rate Florida found in a random sample of food stamp recipients as a reason for needed legislation.

Paula Hawkins has a strong feeling for authority, this daughter of a career Navy man who taught in the naval science department at Georgia Tech. She grew up like a traditional Southern belle. She admits she "got engaged every year" and in college finally married the Atlanta guy who mailed her an engagement ring because he was tired of making the trip out to Utah State on the train to see her. She says of her husband, "He's a very calm, superbly intelligent man with a lot of common sense and a tremendous drive to succeed. I know of no one who doesn't adore him, where I'm very controversial. You either like or dislike me. There's no middle ground."

Surprisingly, much of the controversy this woman senator has generated comes from women's groups that are furious about her anti-ERA and abortion stance. Mrs. Hawkins as a devout Mormon is adamant about her position on these issues; she sees no contradiction between Mormon teachings that a woman's role is that of wife and mother and her own activist life. Her attitudes have not endeared her to feminists or earned their support; Florida's National Organization for Women picketed her campaign appearances and did everything it could to prevent her election.

But if you listen to what Senator Hawkins says and does, it's clear that she visualizes an equal role for women, although conceiving of it differently than feminists do. She thinks "it's about time" we had a woman Supreme Court justice , and allows as many interviews as she can to show that women can "run directly for high office and win." She says she gives interviews "because it may be helpful in getting more women to run for office. I really feel there should be more elected women in every body."

"Obviously we need more women in these roles, leadership roles that make these decisions on families," she says. "The family is the fabric of American society. And I think it's really unfair to put that burden on 100 men. We need to, we do bring different attributes and qualities [to Congress]. I'm stronger than a lot of men in the Senate on some issues, and I'm much waker on others.

"These are not just government problems. Ruskin said there's not a war in the world or an injustive but that women are responsible for it. Then he goes on to say, not in that you provoke, but in that you did not hinder.

"Ruskin was a real chauvinist if you read all his writings. But you think about that statement, and the women are the majority of the population today. If they could just agree on what is best for the items he's talking about, wars and injustices, I think we would have peace. Women should be concerned about international affairs. Their sons go to war. They should be concerned about inflation.It's their life style that's so curtailed and their futures that are imperiled. Interest rates and other things that historically have been a man's business now no longer are just that one sex's responsibility."

She is sitting on a satin couch striped in pale blue and lavender roses, a far cry from the regulation Senate-issue furniture, which tends toward overstuffed brown leather baroque. Gradually, she says, she's redecorating the room, pointing to the bamboo chairs, plants, and the Jules Olitski painting behind her. A long rectangle of mauve splashed with brushes of sand, it's called "The Key of Solomon."

She explains earnestly why she sees no paradox in the Mormon concept of women's roles and her own life: "I am a wife and mother. And my husband is the head of the family." Having chosen to marry and have children, she feels it's a woman's prime responsibility to make sure those children are successful. Having done that, she was ready to move on. She explains that her pioneering role in the Senate reflects the history of her church and the pioneering role of women in it. Mormon women, she says, "were settling the plains and the rugged West and accepting adversity and hardships 50-50 with men in the Western states. I come from pioneer heritage. My great-grandmother crossed the plain. Her mother died on the trip, and she was left with four brothers younger than she was. She was 9. And she baked all the bread, watched it bake with a rifle on her knees so that the Indians wouldn't steal it. She crossed the plains and survived, and raised those boys and baked bread and fought Indians and yet she went to college and lived to be 93 years of age. And on her 91st birthday they asked her what she wanted to do and she said fly to California.' So that's the heritage I have to live up to."

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