The Minnesota Women’s Press editorial board was casting around for a way to personalize our coverage of the upcoming national political conventions. We wanted coverage that would stand out from other publications and have a personal angle.
We hit on the idea of profiling a delegate to the Democratic Party and Republican Party conventions (hereinafter, DNC and RNC). The women featured would be pro-choice and from Minnesota. We thought readers would want to learn more about these women. Satisfied, we moved on to another topic. We profiled veteran DFLer and superdelegate Jackie Stevenson in our last issue. The issue you are holding in your hands or reading online was to contain the profile of the Republican delegate. But it doesn’t because …
There isn’t one. There is not one pro-choice female RNC delegate from Minnesota. If you are shocked, we were too. We were convinced that we had to be overlooking at least a few women, so I beat the bushes. Neither national Republican woman’s organizations nor the Minnesota pro-choice nonpartisan women’s political organizations were aware of any. The state Republican Party told me that it had no idea of delegates’ stands on the choice issue.
When I reached out to prominent pro-choice Republican Minnesota women, I got the answer I was dreading. “There aren’t any,” said Republican lobbyist and political pundit Sarah Janacek. “Four years ago, I was the only one.”
Those words echoed in my ears for days. Where was the mythical Republican Party “big tent,” tolerant of a variety of views and values? In Minnesota, it’s more like a pup tent. Today, if you want to be part of the official Republican Party, your positions must fall in line with those who control it. And that is a conservative-to-reactionary base that has blocked sex-education legislation, supported the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life and united with pro-gun Democrats to pass legislation allowing Minnesotans to carry concealed weapons.
Building an inclusive organization necessarily begins at the grassroots. You can’t get much more grassrootsy than electing citizens and activists to political party conventions. Those lower-level delegates to local conventions have a great deal of power in determining who the Party’s standard-bearers are because they hold the power to endorse candidates for offices like the state legislator. Should a pro-choice candidate squeak through, she’ll have a rough time keeping that endorsement. Ask former Republican State Sen. Sheila Kiscaden of Rochester, denied the Republican endorsement after 10 years in the Minnesota Senate. It wasn’t just the activists who baled on Kiscaden: After she ran as an Independence Party candidate and retained her seat, she attempted to caucus with Senate Republicans, but they booted her out. Or there’s the case of moderate-choice State Sen. Martha Robertson. After representing Minnetonka in the state Legislature for 20 years, she was denied the Party’s endorsement in 2002.
The DFL Party is not perfect, but it does allow for a diversity of views. Both anti-choice and pro-choice activists and elected officials abound. Robertson and Kiscaden have found their political homes there, though neither holds elected office today.
One of the best things the DFL Party has going for it is the national Democratic Party’s mandate that there be gender balance among party officers and delegates and their alternates. At every DFL convention, this parity must exist. As a result, the DFL contingent to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) is 50 percent male and 50 percent female. The Republican Party has no such mandate. The Minnesota delegation to the RNC is 74 percent male, 26 percent female.
Given what I’ve written above, you might think I subscribe to the (paraphrased) bumper sticker, “Friends don’t let friends become Republicans.” To the contrary. The majority of Minnesotans are pro-choice. If you are pro-choice and identify with the Republican Party, I urge you to become involved. Your voice, your vote, and your activism are needed. Should you be discouraged, think of Maine. Maine and Minnesota regularly trade the title of highest voter turnout; we are both states that care about issues and government. Where Maine has us beat is in political diversity. It has two pro-choice women U.S. Senators, and will send some pro-choice delegates to the RNC. We can do better. Can’t we? If you’re not a Republican, encourage the moderate Republicans you know to get involved. A woman’s right to choose may stand in the balance.
I also want to acknowledge that there may be a pro-choice female RNC delegate who’s not on our radar. If that’s you or if you know one, let me know.
Michele St. Martin is the editor of the Minnesota Women’s Press. She can be reached at editor [at] womenspress [dot] com.
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