Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Recent News
Home / News / VOICES of Conservative Women wants a counterbalance to left-leaning political funds
In May 2009 Jennifer DeJournett, Lisa Belak and a handful of other Republican women from Minnesota attended a seminar in Washington, D.C. focused on the role of women in politics. What they learned was distressing: Virtually all of the advances made by female politicians over the last two decades had occurred on the Democratic side of the aisle.

VOICES of Conservative Women wants a counterbalance to left-leaning political funds

Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Lisa Belak and Jennifer DeJournett are among the founders of VOICES of Conservative Women, a political action committee that expects to endorse 30 candidates in this election cycle. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

In May 2009 Jennifer DeJournett, Lisa Belak and a handful of other Republican women from Minnesota attended a seminar in Washington, D.C. focused on the role of women in politics. What they learned was distressing: Virtually all of the advances made by female politicians over the last two decades had occurred on the Democratic side of the aisle.

In Minnesota, the numbers are stark. In 1993 there were 12 female Democrats in the state Senate and eight female Republicans. Today there are 19 DFL female Senators, but the number of GOP women is unchanged.

The state House shows an almost identical trend. Since 1993, the number of female Democrats has increased from 25 to 33, while the GOP count has remained stuck at 10.

Over hors d’oeuvres and drinks following the seminar, the group began discussing this lack of progress for Republican women. “We sat and we basically talked amongst ourselves and said this isn’t right,” recalled Belak.

Upon returning to Minnesota, the group began researching potential explanations for the disparity. What they found was a striking imbalance in the number of political funds explicitly designed to bolster female candidates. They discovered five such organizations primarily designed to help left-leaning candidates, including Emily’s List and womenwinning, but none aimed at conservative women. “We thought, well we can do better than zero,” said DeJournett, who narrowly lost a bid for a slot on the Osseo school board in 2008.

That revelation led to formation of the VOICES of Conservative Women Political Action Committee (VOICESPAC) in November. The goal of the organization is simple: to help elect financially conservative female candidates.

“We care about the pocketbook issues,” said Belak, who is one of six founding board members. “We’re small business owners. We’re running the family budget out of the house. We’re trying to juggle with less and do more.”

VOICESPAC set an initial fundraising goal of $65,000 for 2010. So far the organization has taken in slightly more than half of that amount. The bulk of the war chest came from one donor: Joan Cummins, a habitual big bucks GOP contributor who is married to one of the leading funders of Republican party units in the state, Primera Technology CEO Bob Cummins. But if the group can hit the $40,000 mark, another wealthy contributor has promised a $25,000 check.

To put that figure in perspective, the Minnesota chapter of Emily’s List had raised slightly more than $100,000 as of the pre-primary campaign finance filing deadline, while womenwinning had taken in just over $10,000.

“We’re already at the largest war chest ever raised on behalf of conservative women if we didn’t raise one more penny,” said DeJournett, who is the director of the organization. “We’re very proud of that.”

VOICESPAC expects to endorse 30 candidates in 2010, 15 challengers for local government offices and 15 state legislative candidates. In June the organization announced its first eight targeted contests, all featuring GOP legislative challengers. Among the politicians getting support: state Senate challengers Karin Housley and Michelle Benson, and state House candidates Mary Franson and Kathy Lohmer.

Not surprisingly, the candidates welcome the support.

“There aren’t too many PAC groups that will help conservative women out,” said Franson, who is seeking to take over the House seat being vacated by seven-term Rep. Mary Ellen Otremba, DFL-Long Prairie. “I was intrigued that there was somebody out there who stood for limited government and the principles that I am running on.”

Housley believes that the group’s focus on fiscal conservatism is a perfect fit for her campaign. “I’m running because of the pocketbook issues,” said Housley, who is trying to take over the seat held by Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport. “When I‘m out there door-knocking that’s all anyone’s talking about: jobs, the economy, jobs, the economy.”

In seven of the eight contests where VOICESPAC has endorsed a candidate, the DFL incumbent is being supported by womenwinning. Sarah Taylor-Nanista, that group’s executive director, insists that she welcomes another organization focusing on female politicians. “Honestly, I think there is a need for more support of women candidates on both sides,” said Taylor-Nanista. Although womenwinning is non-partisan, it only supports candidates that are pro-choice, a designation that few Republicans claim these days.  “There’s definitely been a shift,” said Taylor-Nanista. “We’re definitely seeing less Republican women coming to us.”

Similarly VOICESPAC insists that it’s not explicitly set up to back Republican candidates. The group will work for any candidate that backs its philosophy of fiscal conservatism. “Honestly, no DFLer has asked us for our endorsement,” said DeJournett.

VOICESPAC expects to roll out the rest of its endorsements in the next month. By 2012 they expect to expand their field of endorsed candidates to 40.

“People are kind of surprised that there hasn’t been a group like this that’s formed,” said DeJournett. “We’re holding our own. We’re proud of what we’re doing.”


Leave a Reply