SF Chronicle: GOP’s future lies in heeding women’s concerns
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March 31, 2013
The Republican Party needs help. That might be the understatement of the past two election cycles. It seems that we’re hemorrhaging voters – especially young women. Registration numbers released this month only underscore the party’s need to expand its base. We’re not giving women my age enough reasons to stay or join.
As a 30-ish young professional, I don’t see much coming out of the party that resonates with me. We didn’t lose twentysomething and thirtysomething women in the last election because our digital efforts lagged (though they did) or because some crazy white guys said ridiculous things about rape (though they did), but rather because no one bothered to ask what we think or care about. I don’t see any women on the national scene I relate to, and I don’t hear any politicians addressing issues I care about.
I want the Republican Party to succeed. A successful two-party system is necessary to enact reasonable public policy, and I still believe that entrepreneurship, personal responsibility and freedom make the United States great. And Republicans are best positioned to promote these ideas.
Women in my generation are the first to grow up in a post-feminist world. We haven’t had to fight for our place at the table the same way our moms did. For the most part, I grew up in a world where I could attend any college, have the chance to make the same wages as my brothers, have kids when the time felt right and chart whatever course I felt worked. Roe vs. Wade was decided before we were born, and birth control has always been available. Sexism still exists, and I’ve felt it, but we’ve come leaps and bounds since the initial women’s movement.
The world has changed. Women are working, and we’re grappling with how to balance our work lives, family lives and future each and every day in a way that’s very different than the generations before us.
Over the past few months, I’ve had endless conversations with like-minded Republican women and went so far as to informally poll them about what they hope to hear from party leaders. Below are the seven issues that emerged over and over:
Jobs: We don’t want to hear circuitous talking points recycled from the Reagan era; we want to hear how lawmakers will enact reasonable tax and regulatory reform so we can run small businesses and feel secure we’ll be employed for years to come. Figure out a way to use technology to streamline government processes, make health care cheaper and improve the business climate.
Most of us graduated college right as the dot-com bubble burst and we’ve disproportionately felt the impact of the recession. We want well-paying jobs, and we’re willing to work for them. We just don’t want the government to stand in our way or make it more difficult than is really necessary.
Quit acting like the government is the enemy: Many of us went to school on state tuition grants, bought houses with Federal Housing Administration loans or grew up in homes that required government assistance for a time. We’re not wildly antigovernment Tea Partiers – we just want a government that works for everyone. Instead of rhetoric that “slashes” or “starves the beast,” figure out a way to make our government sustainable and functional.
Start talking about education and education reform: The economy won’t grow, and we won’t succeed in the future, unless there is very serious education reform. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, particularly for girls, is critical to our future success. The economy of the future will largely depend on skilled workers prepared to compete globally and, frankly, I think we’re doing a terrible job. Stop demonizing teachers and figure out a way to implement real accountability at the local level.
Act like you care about people: The last campaign slogan that excited me was George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” We can debate government’s role in caring for the poor, but we should all be talking about what we’re doing to help.
We should speak about those who need a little help with compassion, not disdain, and stop acting like we resent it when they need our help. A smart friend said, “I’d like to see Republicans act like they care for those who are suffering.” Immigration reform falls under this umbrella: Don’t demonize undocumented workers and their children, but instead find a compassionate, legal way to help them become tax-paying citizens.
Stop talking about rape, abortion, birth control, etc.: Just stop. No more. Every time a Republican opens his or her mouth on this topic, we lose votes. These issues are critically important, but women my age want to have these conversations with our families and in our churches, not on CNN.
I understand we all have fiercely held beliefs on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. And there is a time and a place for that conversation. But even conservative, evangelical Christians aren’t against civil gay marriage, and we don’t see the need to relitigate abortion. Let’s instead have a conversation about how to reduce the frequency of abortion and help scared women in bad situations.
Figure out how to account for the modern family: We want to hear more about how lawmakers will account for changing family dynamics. Traditional maternity and family leave don’t meet the needs of most of my generation.
In some homes, the woman is the primary breadwinner or might choose to work full time while her husband stays home. I want to hear how flexible work schedules, telecommuting and technology will make my life possible when I have kids someday.
Work with Democrats to get things done: I want to see pragmatic lawmakers willing to compromise in order to actually move us forward. Stop signing no-tax pledges, stop drawing hard lines where it isn’t necessary, and show you can actually get something done. Gridlock and being the “party of no” is killing us. As one friend put it, “I would like there to be an adult in the room.”
Finally, find some smart women who represent our values and put them in the forefront. I don’t relate to John Boehner, Marco Rubio or Mitt Romney. Find the next Condoleezza Rice, Carly Fiorina or Olympia Snowe and let them deliver our message. Put women such as Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, out front and listen to what they have to say.
For the first time, it seems party leaders are really listening. And I hope they are. We have a long road ahead, but I’m confident we’ll make the necessary changes critical to future success.
Amy Thoma, vice president of consulting at Stutzman Public Affairs in Sacramento, served as a spokesman for Carly Fiorina’s 2010 campaign for the U.S. Senate. To comment, go to http://www.sfgate.com/ chronicle/submissions/#1.