(WOMENSENEWS)–My passion for politics first came into focus while I was a young professional working for IBM in Washington, D.C., selling computers to government offices. I considered myself to be an independent voter, and I had always been interested in issues that impacted my life and surroundings rather than on party politics.
But in 1978 I met David Stockman, who was then a freshman member of Congress from Michigan, and who would later become my husband. He was an intelligent, logical, analytical and deep thinker about history and I discovered that I was fundamentally a true Republican; someone who is fiscally conservative, believes in smaller government and the freedom of citizens to make choices regarding their personal lives. Government certainly had no business in our bedrooms.
I attended my first political convention in 1980 in Detroit, Mich., when Ronald Reagan was nominated for the presidency. The spirit there was intoxicating.
But I became quickly dismayed when the Republican Party adopted a platform denying a woman a right to choose and taking a firm stand against Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. I was furious and wondered how I could be a Republican if that was what the party stood for.
Party leaders told me then that the plank was tactically necessary because Reagan needed Southern conservatives to win the presidency. The implication was that this group was critical for votes but would never amass a strong power base within the GOP.
As we know now, nothing could have been further from the truth.
Moderates Assumed Roe Was Safe
Twenty-eight years later, the Republican Party has become synonymous with the social-conservative agenda that first emerged at that 1980 convention. While extreme right-wing activists stuffed envelopes, elected anti-choicers at the grassroots level and worked hard to take over precincts around the country moderates relaxed, played golf, went to cocktail parties and never assumed for a minute that Roe would someday be in danger.
I felt differently and knew we couldn’t sit on our hands. So I committed myself to supporting pro-choice Republican candidates and organizations that lobby for positions I share.
At the core of my political work has been supporting candidates in my home state of Connecticut. I’ve long supported my congressman, Chris Shays, and Gov. Jodi Rell, among others, by raising money for them from all over the country. I’ve also supported Connecticut state legislators.
In order to make an impact on legislation and laws involving a woman’s right to choose, it is also critical to look beyond state boundaries and support candidates all over. I vigorously supported, for example, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s run for governor in California by working with Republican Majority for Choice (RMC) to form a "Women for Arnold" committee in the hope that as a pro-choice governor, he’d be a strong advocate for choice within the GOP.
A large part of my political work has been with the Republican Majority for Choice. I joined their board in the mid-1990s and in 2002 became its co-chair working alongside Dina Merrill. We were supported, in turn, by a committed board and an energetic, intelligent and motivated staff led by Kellie Rose Ferguson.
Not Giving Up on the ‘Big Tent’
Since 1980, I have been to five Republican conventions, including being a Connecticut delegate in 2004 and hosting the "Big Tent" event in St Paul, Minn., this summer. The attendance was gratifying, but we were under no illusions: Today’s GOP is far from being a true big tent, welcoming all regardless of personal views on a woman’s right to choose.
Surprisingly, in all of these years, I have not yet given up on the Republican ideals and have done everything possible to persuade the party and our elected officials to stand by the tenets of Abraham Lincoln and not mix religion and politics. I’ve said again and again that Karl Rove’s strategy of purposefully excluding RINOs–a derisive term which stands for "Republicans In Name Only"–will fail miserably in the end, even if it helped George W. Bush gain a second term.
Now we can see that it backfired badly, and may cost the Republicans the Congress and the White House for decades to come. Nov. 4 will unequivocally prove this point.
One goal of Republican Majority for Choice was to have a pro-choice president or vice president on the GOP ticket by 2008. Sen. John McCain came close to choosing Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania or Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut as his running mate, both of whom are pro-choice. But McCain ultimately buckled to the pressure of the religious right and chose an inexperienced, socially conservative governor from Alaska.
Sarah Palin was obviously not the choice of Republican Majority for Choice, nor mine, and has created only more intra-party divisiveness. Her selection further proves how committed the party and McCain are to its anti-choice agenda.
This could be the beginning of the end of the Republican Party as we know it.
Fundraising Makes a Difference
Although my work inside the Republican Party could be likened to pushing a greasy boulder up a mountain, I’m convinced that the funds I’ve raised were for a higher cause and helped elect many common-sense GOP candidates to public office.
Frankly, one problem that women have advancing their issues is an unwillingness to write the "big" checks, even when they can afford to do so. Republican Majority for Choice would be closer to reaching its ultimate goals if more significant checks were written to the organization and its political action committee, which gives 100 percent of its funds to socially moderate GOP candidates.
Money drives the political process whether we like it or not. I’ve served on many finance committees, including Gov. Pete Wilson’s 1996 presidential campaign, and have learned first-hand that the majority of women cannot be counted on to write substantial checks. That makes it difficult for us to raise major funds from others. If women are to have a powerful voice in electoral politics and ensure that we are safe from government involvement and restrictions in our lives, this must change.
I typically try to max out with contributions to the limit allowed by law. My own approach to giving, whether political or charitable, is to choose only a few causes and support them in a meaningful way; that’s usually a combination of working hard, being available and providing financial resources. I encourage others to consider giving $500 each to just two organizations or candidates instead of giving $100 to 10. Or giving the full $1,000 to the one organization you believe in most.
Whether you have a little or a great amount to give, it’s so important to choose your candidates, causes and issues carefully. If your contribution enables you to gain a seat at the table, you earn a voice. It gives you the opportunity to try to influence opinion and make a difference.
As long as money is part of the game of politics, women have to step up to the plate. We won’t be respected as serious political players until we are significantly funding political change and discourse.
Jennifer Blei Stockman has been co-chair of the Republican Majority for Choice since 2002. She also serves as president of the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation, which overseas four museums and has plans to build a new museum in Abu Dhabi by 2013.
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