Then, in her first speech in Congress, she spoke out about Iraq. Applause turned to boos and hoots on the Republican side of the aisle.
"When will we get out of Iraq?" was the most frequent question she heard, she told the House, while campaigning in the special election she won Tuesday to succeed the late Rep. Tom Lantos.
"The process to bring the troops home must begin immediately," she said, as several Republicans loudly booed and some Democrats cheered. Rep. Darrell Issa, a Vista Republican, bolted from his seat and left the floor.
The hoots grew in volume as Speier, a Hillsborough Democrat, continued: "The president wants to stay the course and a man who wants to replace him suggests we could be in Iraq for 100 years" a reference to Republican John McCain's assertion that U.S. forces could be in Iraq indefinitely if they are not taking casualties.
"But history will not judge us kindly if we sacrifice four generations of Americans because of the folly of one," she said to a mixture of cheers and boos.
"The House is not in order," shouted Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. Speaker Nancy Pelosi banged her gavel. "Why are they booing my mother?" Speier's 13-year-old daughter Stephanie asked, according to a staffer.
So began Speier's first day in the House 29 years after she first ran for Congress. And the early evidence is in: Speier will not mince words.
"I didn't expect that sort of reaction, but that's the combat that goes on here. I'm not a newbie," Speier, a congressional staffer in the 1970s, said in an interview after the swearing-in. "There's a lot of polarization. I heard the boos. I think it's counter-productive to getting things done."
A veteran of the state Legislature, Speier, 57, said she would not be a quiet junior member.
and intended to follow three lessons learned from her late boss, Rep. Leo Ryan: Question the status quo, always listen to the people you represent and always stand up for what you believe in.
Speier was badly wounded in the gunfire that killed Ryan in 1978, when they went to Jonestown, Guyana to investigate Jim Jones' People's Temple cult. The assassination at a nearby airstrip was the catalyst for the murder-suicide of cult members that left 900 dead.
In a decision she once described as therapy, Speier ran in a special election to succeed Ryan, but lost. She launched a career in local and state government, serving on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, 15 years in the California Assembly and eight years in the state Senate.
In 1994, her first husband, Steve Sierra, was killed in an auto accident when she was pregnant with Stephanie.
Speier fell short in a bid for the Democratic nomination as lieutenant governor in 2006.
After winning 77 percent of the vote in Tuesday's special election, and said she had come "full circle" by returning to Congress, feeling "pride and humility at the same time."
To gain a full two-year term, she must win a June 3 primary and the general election in November.
Speier's family and supporters, along with about 60 eighth-graders from the Castilleja School in Palo Alto, packed one section of the House gallery. Her daughter, son Jackson, 19, and husband, Barry Dennis, an investment counselor, waved and cheered.
With a reputation as a consumer advocate, Speier said she was eager to jump into legislative work. She is interested in the Government Reform and Energy and Commerce committees and would like to take on the drug companies by trying to reinstitute a ban on ads for prescription drugs.
One topic Speier did not want to discuss is presidential politics. She confirmed that as a superdelegate, she is continuing to back Hillary Clinton.
"I'm a small fish in a big pond," Speier said of her role in Congress. But she wants to be part of bold action, from Iraq to the economy, because voters are looking for that.
Whether it's Sacramento or Washington, "the problem is not that legislators don't see the signs of trouble, but they don't act," she said.
After the swearing-in, Dennis said his wife was exactly where she belonged: "This is in her blood. She's a legislator through and through."
Frank Davies can be reached at 202-662-8921 or firstname.lastname@example.org.