GOP women seeking a path to political leadership, change

AMES, Iowa — If the political world can’t figure out what women want during the 2012 presidential election cycle, it simply isn’t listening. So say members and supporters of two political action committees that joined forces for a big presence at the Ames Straw Poll on Saturday.

Their message is clear and simple, they say. The groups, People United for Republican Sisters’ Election-Iowa and VOICES of Conservative Women, want to recruit, educate and elect women to office at every level. And once those women are elected, they expect them to rise up as leaders.

At a pre-straw poll breakfast Saturday morning in Ames, the Republican presidential candidates who served their stock messages along with the juice and danishes may not have accurately judged the political acumen or stamina of their audience.

Megan Hess, a candidate for the Iowa Legislature, said she’s entering the political arena to fight for solutions that stand the test of time, on issues such as the national debt, and reforming taxes, entitlements and health care.

“These problems didn’t happen overnight, and they will take years to change,” Hess said. “Solving problems this complex is like turning a ship.”

The women at the breakfast, although they self-identified as fiscal conservatives, defy being pigeonholed, said Diane Bystrom, director of Iowa State University’s Carrie Chapman-Catt Center.

“That’s because every issue is a women’s issue,” Bystrom said. “Men and women care about the same issues. They might approach them differently, and that’s the only difference.”

Jennifer DeJournett, president of VOICES of Conservative Women, who was busy working the PACs’ spacious shared tent at the straw poll after the breakfast, said women in politics aren’t content with talk. They want “a to-do” list.

“They want to take action,” said DeJournett, who graduated from Iowa State University in 1996 with a degree in civil engineering. “The way they do it might look different than the way men operate. Women tend to coalesce into groups to solve problems, and when they talk, they take things to their conclusion.”

Even women like Abigail Cline, 24, of Cedar Falls, Iowa, who say they will probably never aspire to office, want to be a part of the political solution.

Cline, a supporter of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, is the mother of a 2-month-old daughter and plans to return to the University of Northern Iowa someday to finish a degree in elementary and middle school education. She said she’s looking for leaders who are willing to scale back government to a level that “regular citizens can wrap their minds around.”

“There’s no reason for a bill to be so long that lawmakers can’t get it all read before they vote on it,” she said. “And I’m tired of pieces of legislation that tack on things that should never be voted on as a package deal.”

“Women voters will be the key to winning races in 2012 at all levels of government,” DeJournett said, citing research that shows women outvote their male counterpoints by about 5 percent in every election cycle.

“We’re looking for women who have that spark of leadership across the spectrum of political views,” she said. “We are at a point where the country needs to make a decision about where it’s headed. We need women in leadership to help with that.”

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