Women are at the forefront of many of this year’s critical and most-watched races. From candidates for governorships making waves from red-to-blue states, to game-changing senate seats up for grabs, women are making their voices heard now more than ever. Pivotal issues, including equal pay for women, health care, and campus sexual assault are front and center in Washington and statewide with women leading the charge. While the 113th Congress boasted 20 female senators – more than any other Congress to date, women still only make up 24.2% of state legislators in the U.S. With only a few months until the November midterm elections, it’s down to the wire for many candidates striving to change all that and bring a female perspective to the table.
To showcase a year of textbook races for women, msnbc introduces ’30 in 30,’ a new series where the 30 of the most dynamic women candidates seeking office in 2014 will be spotlighted: One a day over the next 30 days. The candidates – Democrat and Republican – have answered questions based on women’s issues and being a woman in a male-dominated industry. Welcome to Day 8!
Name: Rebecca Kleefisch
Party Affiliation: Republican
Race: Wisconsin Lt. Governor
Challenger: Democrat John Lehman
Here’s the deal: Running as Gov. Scott Walker’s running mate, Kleefisch – Wisconsin’s current lieutenant governor and former news reporter – made history when she became the first LG to face and survive a recall attempt. She has so far significantly outraised her opponent. Kleefisch, who has campaigned on and as LG zeroed in on job growth and veterans declared 2012 as “The Year of the Veteran.” At 37 years old, Kleefisch is a colon cancer survivor.
How has being a woman in a field dominated by men impacted your race so far?
HA! Well, I’m a woman in an “industry” dominated by men. It’s solidified my view that women’s voices are just as important, our resumes make us just as qualified, our ideas make us just as valuable and our execution of policy makes us unique contributors to public service. These are beliefs I held before I ran for anything and beliefs that can be applied equally in the private sector, but my time in politics has proven my parents right over and over: girls are just as good as boys…and at some things…better.
What will you bring to Madison that your opponent can’t?
I have brought a private sector perspective, one that I’ve maintained with my years of Small Business Roundtables and Tax Reform Roundtables where I have nurtured close ties with our small job creators and average taxpayers. I bring marketing and communications experience, which I’ve used and enhanced after these years as Wisconsin’s “Chief Marketing Officer” selling our state’s economic development climate (one in which we’ve seen 21,000+ business started and 100,000+ jobs created). I bring an understanding of the deep need for tax reform. I, along with Governor Walker, don’t endorse huge tax increases like our opponents have…we’ve been champions of helping people keep their money! I also bring a personal combination of a parent who cares deeply about education–because we’re using the public K-12 system right now, and health care, because I’m a cancer survivor. I want parents and patients to see value, care, effectiveness and efficiency and government can play a role in assuring families get these things.
If elected, what will be your #1 priority?
Tax reform. We’ve already made huge strides. A regular family of four here in Wisconsin can depend on $681 in tax relief this year alone, but we need to help people more, faster. Grocery price increases and school supply price increases (you can tell what’s on our family’s minds-and in the Sunday ads this week!) have outpaced personal income growth in this country. In Wisconsin, we’re doing well – we’re actually 7th in the country for per capita personal income growth, but we carry an uncomfortably heavy tax burden here. Our numbers will come down next year when all $2 billion of the tax cuts we’ve done have been accounted for, but right now, we have the 10th worst tax burden in the country. People need relief. We get that and will deliver on it.
What can we expect to see from your campaign this summer?
Governor Walker and I will continue to travel the state spreading a message about our bold and positive reforms. We’ve seen the creation of more than 100,000 new private sector jobs and our unemployment rate has fallen to 5.7%, the lowest since 2008. We’ve taken a deficit of more than $3.6 billion and turned it into a $911 million surplus – without raising taxes. In fact, we’ve cut taxes by $2 billion while freezing tuition for students in the University of Wisconsin System.
The contrast is clear, Wisconsin is moving in the right direction and we can’t afford to go back to the days of billion dollar budget deficits, double digit tax increases and record job loss. My campaign will be focused highlighting our efforts to continue to move Wisconsin forward.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to young women looking to pursue a career in politics today?
First piece of advice was given to me during my first career: I was in TV news-I was told, “you can have it all, you just can’t have it all at once.” Women are told in all sorts of ways that you can have it all…right now! Life is, and always will be, a series of choices, tradeoffs and compromises to establish a balance between personal and professional. Don’t let anyone fool you into judging others’ choices or feeling self conscious about your own career trajectory.
I would also tell women pursuing politics to keep speaking regular English: leave the acronyms and Legal-ese at work and talk the same way you did before you were elected.
Women make 85% of the household decisions and government could use more common sense elected officials who can break down how the decisions made in our state capitols and in Washington affect family budgets and our day to day lives.
Which women in politics inspire you?
Margaret Thatcher was tough. She was never a victim. I love toughness.
How will you address unequal pay for working women?
Women want more opportunities – not more opportunities to sue. I think the key to ensuring that we have more opportunities is having more women at the table solving our nation’s problems. That’s why I’m proud to help recruit and train more first time women candidates, and serve as co-chair the Republican State Leadership Committee’s “Right Women, Right Now” – an initiative that announced this week we’ve identified 558 first time Republican women running for office.
I’ve spoken to many of these women this week and they agree with me – instead of thinking of ways to sue people after women feel they’ve been denied opportunity, let’s focus on ways we can help people to create more opportunity for women to succeed. Women are already the breadwinners in four out of 10 American households. I teach my daughters they can do and be anything boys can, the same way my parents taught me. Let’s make sure every American daughter grows up knowing she deserves to be compensated for her excellence. And let’s make sure employers know our daughters will demand that of them… or they’ll take their excellence elsewhere.
Check out msnbc’s Women of 2014 Twitter Trail to follow 2014 candidates to watch all in one place!