(Meg Hansen, Republican candidate for state senate in Bennington County and runner-up to Scott Milne in the August 11 primary race for lieutenant governor, delivered the speech below at the Vermont GOP Women’s Suffrage Centennial Saturday, September 12 at the Vermont State House. The video shows her speech was enthusiastically received. – Editor)
Today, I would like to say a few words about two major challenges that Republican women face in politics.
At present, women account for a mere 8% of US House Republicans and 15% of Senate Republicans. In Montpelier, there are no Republican women in the state senate and just 14 republican women in the house. While there are historically more women in elected office in D.C. and state legislatures today, these women disproportionately belong to the Democratic Party.
Why? Obstacle #1: Money. Specifically, the lack of it. Democratic women are light-years ahead of Republicans in fundraising, recruitment, and organization. Groups like EMILY’s List and locally Emerge Vermont are responsible for nurturing and backing women who wish to serve in public office.
The name “Emily” in Emily’s List is an acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast.” As in, it rises and raises dough. Financial support at the start of a campaign validates the candidate as a serious one and helps bring in other donors. That’s where we, Republican women, find ourselves caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, we do not believe that anyone should vote for us or donate to us on the basis of our gender, and for some of us on the basis of our skin color. We want to be judged on our merit as individuals and message as candidates. On the other hand, we know that being a woman, a mother, a wife, a sister, and a daughter shapes our personalities and worldviews in unique and diverse ways. We know that these varied experiences allow us to bring fresh perspectives on wide-ranging issues. Our lived experiences and relationships, as women, necessarily inform how we understand the problems around us. And it shapes the solutions we propose.
So how do we strike the right balance? We need to underscore the importance of helping more women get into office without turning off those who are sick of the identity politics that they associate with the Left. Women are not a minority. We are 51% of the population. We are also not a socially constructed identity group. Women and men are equal partners in the human experience. We can prioritize merit and competence while also acknowledging that women bring unique perspectives that must be valued.
Obstacle #2: A number of influencers in the Republican Party, both in Vermont and across the nation, treat Republican women as second-class citizens in politics. These voices are fine with women being town chairs, county chairs, volunteers and any role that involves actual work — hours of important but often thankless labor to support our cause. But that’s where they draw the line. Any woman who dares to speak up, any woman who dares to disrupt the status quo from which they benefit, is labeled a “troublemaker” and worse. God forbid such troublemaking women dare to run for an office that may be a higher position than the one that they hold!
In preparing for today, I watched interviews of Republican women running for US House seats in various states. In interview after interview, these candidates shared stories of how local GOP leaders insisted that they were not viable candidates… how local influencers tipped the scales prior to the primary in favor of the more traditional candidates. What does a traditional candidate mean? Well, in VT, it would mean candidates who have the physical appearance of a classic New England politician. Not candidates that look or sound like any of us here running for office.
The good news is that the American people don’t share these biases toward Republican women candidates. And, this has been true for a long time. The first woman to be elected to a full term in the US Senate was a Republican. That was in 1978. If Republican women are given adequate financial support to run for office, we will win. Yes, even in so called deep blue Vermont.
I am not pretending to speak for all Republican women. Like all of us here, I do not subscribe to collectivism. I expect some will disagree with me, especially those who have curried favor with existing power structures. But I know that many more women agree with my assessment that we often face great opposition from within the party.
Recently, we have seen the terms Elect Vermont Women and Elect Democratic Party Women used synonymously. This is wrong. Vermont Women belong to both major parties. We cannot allow ourselves to be erased by anyone. But before we can embark on a mission to ensure that our voices are heard, we must clean house.
We can no longer tolerate a VT GOP subculture that shames women for being outspoken, reduces us to tokens, or uses us mouthpieces to do their dirty work. We must end this subculture where men sexually objectify women who dare to participate in politics, and have no qualms about verbally assaulting us when their egos are bruised.
As we commemorate the centennial anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, I call upon all of us — women and men — to come together and renew the Republican Party’s commitment to honor, support, and partner with Vermont women. Thank you.
~ Meg Hansen