“All issues are women’s issues.”

Brooks & Walters Lead Effort to Increase the Number of Women Serving in Congress

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks (IN-5) and Mimi Walters (CA-45) appeared before a breakfast meeting of The Ripon Society yesterday morning, delivering remarks about the effort they are spearheading as leaders of the Congressional Women’s Caucus to support and increase the number of women serving on Capitol Hill.

“We’re moving on some things, but it’s been a little bit slower than I would have liked,” stated Brooks, who serves as co-chair of the bipartisan caucus along with Democratic Representative Lois Frankel of California.  “And that is because things are so polarized right now between the parties.  But we are trying to find things to work on together.”

For example, Brooks said that she and Frankel recently joined together with Alabama Representative Martha Roby to introduce legislation aimed at protecting young athletes from sexual abuse.  Called the Protecting Young Athletes from Sexual Abuse Act, the bill was introduced in response to recent allegations of abuse made against personnel involved with USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming and USA Taekwondo.

Brooks noted that on these and other issues that “cut through partisanship,” she and Frankel encourage caucus members to reach out to other women from across the political aisle.  “We’re not trying to take credit as the Women’s Caucus for that,” Brooks said.  “We’re just trying to promote it because we know that people back home like to hear that we actually have friends across the aisle and can get things done.”

Brooks is a former U.S. Attorney from the Southern District of Indiana who also served as Deputy Mayor of Indianapolis.  In her remarks, she recalled her first campaign for Congress in 2012, and how she has come to appreciate in the years since the fact that Republicans have outside political organizations in place to support GOP women who are running for office.  That said, she added that the GOP could be doing much better in the regard, especially when compared with the outside assistance that is in place to assist Democratic women.

“One of the things that we on the Republican side don’t have is the backing of an incredibly well organized group like EMILY’S List,” Brooks observed.  “We have terrific groups — VIEWPAC being one that was, by the way, the only PAC to endorse me in my run for Congress in 2012. I ran in a seven-way primary against six men — a former member of congress, a physician who’d run, a mayor…  I was in a really tough primary, and it was VIEWPAC and Cathy McMorris Rogers who stepped up and helped me.  They were about the only ones.

“But I think our biggest challenge, quite frankly, is getting through primaries.  We have women who run, and we have a lot of efforts to get women to run.  But we have a very difficult time getting women through the primaries. Their campaign teams are not as well organized, their fundraising is not as robust. One of the things that I’m constantly talking about is that the top donors in the country are men.  We have some top female donors, but it doesn’t really compare to what the top male donors are giving.  That’s somewhat of a challenge for us.”

Still, Brooks concluded, the larger challenge remained not just to elect more Republican women, but more American women in general.

“I wish that our female leadership in our legislative bodies was much higher than it is,” she said.  “Many years ago, most of the developed countries entered into an agreement to try to elect a lot more women to Congress or to their respective legislative bodies and parliaments.  Guess where the United States ranks right now in the world with regard to woman in legislative bodies?  We’re 100th – 100th of countries, that’s where we rank. 19.6 percent of our members are women. And that’s both sides of the aisle.

“We know Republicans have a long way to go to catch up … Jackie Walorski and I were the first Republican women to be elected from Indiana in 50 years. There was one woman from ’49 to ’59.  We just have not progressed in the way that we need to.”

Walters, who serves as Vice Chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus, agreed with Brooks, and began her own remarks talking not about politics, but about policy.

“All issues are women’s issues,” the California lawmaker declared.  “I think that’s a very important message that we have to try to get across. I’m excited because I have a piece of legislation that we’re going to be dropping pretty soon. It has to do with workplace flexibility.

“As a working mom, it’s really important to be able to balance your home with your work life.  That’s one of the biggest challenges that I faced when I first ran for office. I served for 10 years in the California state legislature.  I had to commute with my youngest, who was in 3rd grade, and my oldest, who was in 7th grade.

“We see now that a lot of businesses are being mandated by states and localities to offer mandated paid leave for their employees. That’s going to start to become the norm. So what we want to try to do is give businesses the opportunity to offer paid leave, but do it on their terms so it can work for the business and their employees.  So we’re going to be introducing a piece of legislation that will basically say that if you’re a company and you want to opt into this voluntary program, then based on the size of your company, you can offer paid leave and workflex options.”

Walters was elected to the House in 2014 after serving a decade in the California State Legislature.  Her experience at the state level, along with the two years she has now spent in Washington, has served to reinforce her belief that Republicans need to build an infrastructure that will help recruit, train and elect women at all levels around the country.  She concluded her remarks by discussing an organization she helped establish in her hometown that is designed to do just that.

“I’m a co-founder of the California Women’s Leadership Association, which is an organization that started in Orange County,” she said.  “The organization has been around for over 20 years now. Our whole mission is to help give women the tools that they need and give them the confidence to run for office.  We’ve been extremely successful in Orange County with women elected officials, and we’ve sent them to the state legislature. I’m actually the first female Republican from Orange County in Congress, so I sort of broke the mold for women when it comes to Orange County and Congress.  And having an organization like the California Women’s Leadership Association really helps bring women into politics.”

To view the remarks of Reps. Brooks and Walters before The Ripon Society’s breakfast discussion yesterday morning, please click on the link below:

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.