WASHINGTON -- A Republican campaign group has tapped the architect of the Susan G. Komen Foundation's policy to cut cancer screening funding to Planned Parenthood. Karen Handel, former Komen senior vice president for public affairs, will co-chair an effort to elect more Republican women to state legislatures around the country.
The Republican State Leadership Committee announced Thursday that Handel, former Georgia secretary of state, will help lead the new initiative -- dubbed "Right Women, Right Now" -- alongside former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey (R). Handel resigned from her position as Komen's senior vice president for public affairs earlier this year after public outcry in response to the foundation's decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood. The Huffington Post reported at the time that internal Komen emails indicated Handel had used a GOP-initiated congressional investigation of Planned Parenthood as a basis for the policy, which centered around de-funding groups under investigation.
The Komen Foundation later changed the policy to focus solely on criminal investigations. Handel, a staunch abortion opponent who lost a bid for the Georgia governorship in 2010, resigned her Komen post.
"I am honored to co-chair the RSLC initiative, Right Women, Right Now," Handel said in an RSLC statement. "This effort will provide a great support structure and necessary resources for Republican women running for office. I look forward to electing a greater female representation within the party through this next generation of state-level officials."
The Center for Woman American Women and Politics at Rutgers Univerity indicates that Democrats represent the majority of women state legislators in the country. The center's statistics show that women make up 428 out of 1,971 state senators nationwide, with 265 being Democrats and 151 being Republicans, and one independent. Women hold 1,321 out of 5,411 state House seats nationally, with 791 being Democrats and 524 being Republicans, along with four progressives and two independents. To date, 1,078 women have won state legislative primaries nationally.
RSLC president Chris Jankowski told HuffPost that the Right Women, Right Now group will identify 150 candidates nationally, with the goal of electing 75 of them. He said candidates will be picked based on electability, fundraising and district history.
"It's entirely realistic that we bat .500 on this," Jankowski said. "It could be better."
Jankowski said Handel and Healey were picked based on their service on the RSLC board and past statewide wins. He said that the RSLC believes Handel's role in the Komen abortion debate is a plus in her background.
"We were 100-percent supportive of her in that episode," Jankowski told HuffPost. "We believe she handled herself well. It was an absurd distortion of the truth by the extreme left. We are proud to have a pro-life member of the board."
Handel does not mention her Komen past in her biography posted on the RSLC website, focusing instead on roles in politics and with the Chamber of Commerce. Handel's co-chair, Healey, was Massachusetts' second-in-command under Mitt Romney and lost a 2006 race for governor.
Among the board members of the group are Virginia state Del. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean), who was a strong supporter of an effort to mandate transvaginal ultrasounds before receiving an abortion. Other board members include Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, California Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare) and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Handel's appointment was immediately opposed by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. DLCC spokesman Dan Roth said that this was the latest attack on women by the GOP.
"One of co-chairs, the last time she entered the national discourse was when she almost single handedly brought down the reputation of the Susan G. Komen Foundation," Roth told HuffPost. "This reflects the policies of the Republican Party, which has attacked women in state legislatures across the U.S."
Roth said that he sees this as a way for the GOP to try to get around the debates over abortion and women's issues and indicated that he believes Democrats will triumph in the state legislative races.
"We don't have to carve out niche groups for women because we haven't spent a generation attacking them," Roth said.
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