INTERVIEW: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers on Women, Work, and Politics
GHL: Moving back to the discussion about women and politics… let’s talk a little about women within the Republican party, especially after the criticisms following the most recent CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference), that women weren’t given enough high-profile roles. What can you do, as a leading Republican woman, to change that impression, if not the tide?
CMR: Part of it is that we need to highlight women that are currently serving within the Republican party. We have dynamic, inspiring women in key positions. And when you look at women serving in Congress on the Republican side, as well as women in executive positions across the country, there are some really great women. And great leaders.
I think it’s important we recognize that it’s not just about getting women in these positions, but that women are providing important leadership. Four out of five women governors right now are Republican. Six out of 10 women lieutenant governors are Republican. We have another group of dynamic women that we’ve recruited to run for Congress. I think the Republican party needs to highlight these women and celebrate the progress that has been made, and the important leadership and voice that these women bring on issues, around the table. We have three women right now, out of eight, on our elected leadership team in the House. The freshman representative for the Republican freshman class is a woman. I think some of it is that we don’t always tell our story as well we should.
GHL: That could be. And stories, such as you’re telling us, are good for people to hear—the actual, lived-out experience of a woman like you.
CMR: The Republicans won the women’s vote in 2010. And I think there’s definitely a battle going on over the women’s vote. There is excitement right now over women reaching new heights. I want to encourage more women to go out there and be risk takers, seek their dreams. One of the common takeaways when you’re trying to recruit women to run for office is that they often wait for someone else to ask them. And you talked about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In—it’s still relatively new for women to be serving in Congress. I was the 200th woman ever elected to the House. And it wasn’t that long ago; that’s out of 11,000 that have served. As more women are running for office and more women are getting elected, it’s causing others to think, “If she can do it, then maybe I can do it.”
In my own experience trying to recruit women, a lot of them have never even considered running for office. I think it’s fair to say that women see life more as a balancing act. They see their responsibilities as, “I have this plate full of responsibilities, whether it’s in my home or career, my community, my volunteer activities.” For most of them, politics is just another slice of the pie, and they feel like their plate is full and they think, “How am I going to have time for politics?”
What I see changing is that women all across this country are recognizing that it’s important, and that the decisions made at all levels of government have a direct impact on them, their kids, and the country that America is today and what kind of a country America will be in the future. So women are recognizing that this needs to be a priority, they they need to be involved, and that women have something very unique to offer.
When you look just generically at what citizens are seeking in their representatives, and what women offer, women are seen as being trustworthy, they’re seen as problem solvers, they’re not as interested as much in who gets the credit, they’re about getting the job done, they’re seen as relatable, so these are all qualities that are very appealing right now. Citizens are wanting that in their representatives.
GHL: Definitely. So looking forward to 2016, do you think the GOP might be able to put forward a female presidential candidate? Or do you think that it’s something important to have?
CMR: You know, we just had Dr. Condoleeza Rice speak at a big dinner for Republicans here in Washington D.C. and there were a lot of people who walked away saying, “I wish she would run for president. So, we’ll see.”
News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs about raising an Asian mixed-race family at HapaMama.