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Marie Wilson

Marie Wilson

Posted: October 14, 2009 03:17 PM

The Gathering Storm of Republican Women

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When Sen. Olympia Snowe commented this week on translating the "empathy of your experience into legislation," she made a profound statement on what is currently missing in American politics. The pinnacle of such indifference to the average citizen's plight is seen today in the partisan stalling of health care. You would think that our leaders would want the U.S. to improve its ranking of 37th in the world for health care, and to ensure that families are not destroyed by lack of affordable insurance. Yet the Republican Party's stubborn adherence to partisanship on this issue is not only harming Americans while ignoring the public majority. It is alienating a huge portion of the party -- Republican women -- and is giving rise to impending revolt.

One of the beauties of traveling across the country to train women to lead at a time when their experience as women is sorely needed, is that you pick up on the stories and trends that are lying below the media's radar, yet are on the cusp of erupting onto the national stage. Since The White House Project trains women of all political leanings to run for office and assume leadership, I am fortunate to have my finger on the pulse of our nation's women - and the tolerance of many Republican women for their party is drawing to an angered end.

This summer, for example, I met with a group of prominent women after a speaking engagement in the South. They had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Republican male candidates and had helped to put President Bush into The White House, yet the party that they worked so hard to support was increasingly turning its back on them. They were sick and tired of the conservative positions on choice that their party continued to hold their daughters' lives and our country hostage to. While they have little intention to leave the party, they know their party has already left them. And now, they are joining their Republican sisters across the U.S. and plotting a rebellion.

They are looking to elect women like Mary Louise Smith of Iowa, the former Party Chair under Bush senior and my mentor while serving on the Des Moines City Council. Together, we lobbied the Iowa legislature on issues of choice and childcare. We created the Women's School at Drake University that offered courses ranging from management training to dual-career families to dealing with underemployment of women by race and class. Mary Louise and I may have had our political differences, but we agreed on basic rights and resources; and like most of the women who led in the party at the time, she was socially progressive if fiscally conservative.

When I questioned Mary Louise as to why she was a Republican when our values and issues were so similar, she responded if I knew what was going on in her party, I would kiss her feet for being there. She saw the earlier storm of far right clouds gathering, and as a result, I watched from a distance as her influence shrunk and a value system she had spent her best years building was put to rest as she was.

Yet there are a growing number of women in Mary Louise's image out there, and they are intent on renovating their party to better reflect the needs of America's women and families. They are furious that men like Sen. John Kyl are fighting against maternity coverage, and that of the paltry seventeen women who serve in the Senate and 74 who serve in the House, only four and seventeen, respectively, are Republicans.

Like Sen. Snowe said earlier this week, her focus is on "the practical mechanics and real-life things. This is not a parlor game for me." While the comment applied to her health care vote, it also signifies women's general position in political leadership. Women of both parties are committed to advancing solutions despite the political risks, and are watching as Sen. Snowe leads in crossing the aisle on behalf of Americans' well being. If her fellow Republicans intend to punish her for taking leadership on our behalf, they will effectively pull the plug among their party's women that is barely holding their fury in tow.

 

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