On the Road to Reform: An Interview with Kate Whitman

In 2005, former EPA Administrator and New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman published a book, It’s My Party Too. The front jacket flap of the hard-cover edition summarizes her premise.

Relentlessly pushing their rigid demands on abortion rights, stem cell research, the environment, and go-it-alone foreign policy, the far-right groups, whom [Whitman] calls social fundamentalists, are not only violating traditional Republican principles, but are also seeking to purge the party of moderates …

Concurrent with the release of her book, Whitman launched a Web site by the same name. Like-minded Republicans visited that site by the millions, convincing the former Governor that she had tapped into something that was far more substantive than a nascent idea. And thus the Web site evolved from book promotion to movement building.

Later — as former Senator John Danforth (MO) and former Lt. Governor Michael Steele (MD) began to voice similar concerns about the GOP — Whitman joined forces with them to take It’s My Party to the next level. Together, they revived the all-but-defunct Republican Leadership Council (RLC), and today are leading the charge — with other moderate Republican groups, including Republicans for Environmental Protection, Log Cabin Republicans, Republican Majority for Choice, and Republican Main Street Partnership — to return the GOP to a party that is “unified by the basic tenets of fiscal responsibility and personal freedom, but that allows for diverse opinions on social issues by its members.”

On April 13, I interviewed the RLC’s executive director, Kate Whitman, 30.

Governor Whitman’s daughter, Kate has an impressive resume of her own, including a stint in the press office of the Employment and Training Agency of the U.S. Department of Labor, before and immediately after 9/11. She also served as DC communications director for Congressman Christopher Cox, R-CA and ran her own consulting business for two years, before giving birth to twin boys in 2005 and deciding to scale back. Shortly after that, her mother tapped her to run the evolving It’s My Party organization, which led to Kate’s current position with the RLC.

Highlights from our interview are offered on the next page. Extended Q&A can be found at Central Sanity.

On the organization’s name/identity change

After we got started, one of the major concerns often voiced was that the (My Party) organization was perhaps too focused on Governor Whitman and her book. We wanted it to be more inclusive and to involve other leaders. We also wanted the organization to be more about re-building the party versus the initial perception (fair or unfair) that it was focused on tearing apart the Party. That’s why we approached the treasurer of the original RLC about taking over its identity.

On the organization’s goals

… we’re focusing on the city, county, and state levels — on recruiting candidates at those levels; building a farm team, if you will. That’s what really distinguishes us from other groups like Main Street, which is largely focused on federal-level candidates. We’re also working with other groups to help their members and ours become delegates to the 2008 Republican Convention. Finally, we’re helping our California chapter conduct a leadership weekend in July, which will feature candidate and campaign training sessions along with issue and policy presentations. If that’s successful, we’ll look to replicate it elsewhere, with other state chapters.

On what it will take to build a moderate GOP majority

It all hinges on getting out the message that we need to get back to where the Party started. I have friends who claim they’re Democrats, but they’re really not. They just don’t agree with what’s going on in Washington today. In short, if you support candidates who can have a constructive discussion about social issues but don’t demand adherence to one point of view or another on those issues, who instead demand adherence to the core principles of lower taxes, less intrusion in people’s lives, etc., then you’re a Republican. That’s the message we need to get out there.

Author: PETE ABEL

13 Comments

  1. The problem with the Christine Whitman’s of the world is that she just not seem to realize that there is just not enough moderate suburban white voters who would ever go along with the “Democratic Lite” program that she proposes.

    If the Republicans evict the social conservatives from the party, then who is left? A few country club liberals? Such a Republican on the national level would be as relevent as the current Republican state parties in Mass, NJ, or Maryland.

  2. It is encouraging to me to see moderates of either party banding together to offset polarizers. I will support the RLC in the spirit that the Dems can easily lose their way and alienate us moderate independents.

    BTW I ran into Senator Bill Bradley at the Whole Foods Market in Austin last night, and asked him about any emerging moderate movements. It is pretty much the DLC, RLC, RMSP. It seems that there is a missed opportunity to bring Centrists together from both parties into a new political force.

  3. I support this as well, and see it as the direction that the GOP must move in to have any hopes of keeping independent and moderate voters from jumping ship. Unfortunately, centrists like Ms. Whitman still have to deal with the James Dobson types in the party, who weild a huge influence over candidate selection and voter turnout.

    Even though, I am center left, I could support a Gerald Ford or Lincoln Republican (no Gingrich is not a Lincoln Republican). I believe that McCain is feeling sickened because he has been forced to court the RR types that, as a libertarian, he disdains. It is destroying his candidacy, along with ties to the war. Will Giuliani be destroyed by Dobson as well?

  4. I think it is terrific that there are still voices in the GOP that are interested in small yet workable government versus the bloated monster that the socons have given us. I think the most telling thing is that Ronald Reagan himself wouldn’t get the approval of the James Dobsons of the world. If anyone is interested in other moderate Republican sites, check out GOPProgress, http://www.GOPProgress.com.

  5. bookworm,

    Thanks for the link. Good stuff. Added you to my “Other Voices” list at Central Sanity.

  6. SD I live in the metro Detroit area and the Macomb county Democrats who switched to Reagan were called Reagan Democrats. These people are blue collar middle class white suburbanites. The adjacent couty(Oakland) is a little more upper middle class and white suburban soccer moms, these people are flocking away from the Bush fiasco. Only the RR Calvinists in the Gerald Ford western area are in the Bush fold, and this groip is now the minority in Michigan. It ‘s the “Democratic Liteâ€? of the NE and midwest that went to Reagan, not the former southern DINOs.

  7. > “Democratic Lite�

    Exactly. RINOs need to be made extinct. (They should be honest and become Democrats.) Northeast-and-West-Coast liberal so-called “Republicanism” is out of touch with mainstream USA politics to the right of the Left.

  8. Superdestroyer said:

    > there is just not enough
    > moderate suburban white
    > voters who would ever go
    > along with the “Democratic
    > Lite� program that she
    > proposes.

    While Rudy has a point below, you are right in general. These people do not buy the stale 1960s-and-earlier Cyanide Nation big-government mantras (long discredited) and they are well aware that they will pay while many others will benefit, not they. (A key element of convincing people to accept Medicare for everyone is to remind them that they will indeed benefit, not simply be the taxpayers.)

    The suburban whites (which are blue and white collar) show themselves such as in the following scenario I recall from when I was in Seattle. The Seattle Mariners wanted a new ballpark and threatened to move to Tampa Bay if they didn’t get it (paid for by the public). Those in the inner city supported it. Those in the suburbs did not. (Subsequently there was a new ballpark built, but my point is that the white suburban voters’ objection to new taxes for public expenses that were controversial was clearly evident during the time I am describing, 1995-6.)

    And yes, Whitman is “Democratic Lite,” as are Snowe, Collins, Chafee, the whole should-be-Democratic bunch. The Democrats are either liberal (they call themselves “centrist” or “moderate,” as do so many liberals on this site) or more liberal to radical (the party’s left wing, going all the way outward to Dennis Kucinich, Cynthia McKinney, and Barbara Lee, “Bush is a terrorist” or “war criminal” fringe, etc.).

    Rudi said:

    > It ’s the “Democratic Lite� of
    > the NE and midwest that went
    > to Reagan, not the former
    > southern DINOs.

    The latter had already gone earlier to Nixon (and to the GOP). The Democrats and discredited 1930s-1960s liberalism turned off the former group by 1980.

    K. Ritter wrote:

    > I support this as well, and see it
    > as the direction that the GOP must
    > move in to have any hopes of
    > keeping independent and moderate
    > voters from jumping ship.

    Well, given that the rest of what you wrote indicates a displeasure with the Religious Right, you may have a point, though it’s more muted than you may think given you are a liberal and loathe the Religious Right. The Religious Right is part of the GOP, though it has far less power in Washington than it has in elections. The contests can be close enough that the Religious Right voters have to be courted. The GOP consists of more than that group, of course; you have in Washington other groups that control matters there, namely the “Whigs” (libertarian and pro-business GOP) and “Tories” (non-religious social conservatives, sometimes authoritarian) as well as “neocons” in the broader sense (“liberals with economic common sense;” people happy with big government in Washington, where they are, because they like being in power over people and even being able to enrich themselves, imagine that).

    Now imagine if we had 4-6+ parties and proportional representation. You could have a chance at seeing your own hopes achieved as well as see the GOP and the Dems fractured and the two-party “duopoly” ended (hooray!).

  9. > If the Republicans evict the
    > social conservatives from the
    > party, then who is left?

    Libertarian and pro-business (often claiming to be libertarian) Republicans

    > A few country club liberals?
    > Such a Republican on the
    > national level would be as
    > relevent as the current
    > Republican state parties in
    > Mass, NJ, or Maryland.

    This is the mistake we’re seeing made right now with the GOP Presidential candidates!

    The only hope for good voter support for these RINOs is to make sure there’s a solid conservative VP selection. Those of us who are moderate but not mushy, and have conservative leanings with experience and wisdom (did you like that, K?) don’t want “Democratic Lite” nonsense. The President is not our father, our nation’s heart and soul, who will make us feel better about ourselves, while keeping the oversized mammoth in Washington big and bloated. Yeech.

  10. Paul Silver said:

    > I ran into Senator Bill Bradley
    > at the Whole Foods Market in
    > Austin last night, and asked him
    > about any emerging moderate
    > movements. It is pretty much
    > the DLC, RLC, RMSP. It seems
    > that there is a missed opportunity
    > to bring Centrists together from
    > both parties into a new political force.

    You won’t get it so long as the two-major-party “duopoly” (Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber) remains the de facto institution it is in this country. During elections they fight over those of us in the broader middle (“swing voters” who won’t hesitate to punish their more-compatible “same side” party by voting for the “other side” party — you saw this in 2006 as well as in 1994 and for that matter, 1980, and may well see this in 2008 — “President Clinton”) while they take those farther on the wing for granted, giving them a sop once in a while (the GOP and the Religious Right) except during elections (the Religious Right is a significant fraction of the GOP during elections).

    If you shattered the duopoly and had multiple parties with proportional representation, this would be solved. However, be aware that the ideal would be 4-6+ parties, not merely three. (Three would be better than two, however, although a single centrist third party would be the most boring status-quo party imaginable.)

    For readers who want to learn more about proportional representation, this site is the best. It’s run by a so-called “progressive” [sic; very liberal to radical] professor; I own the first edition of his book (bought it over ten years ago). Even though the far Left is the normal advocate of proportional representation (because it is so removed from the mainstream it can never amass a large plurality among serious voters, and the only way the far Left can stop losing elections is to change the system fundamentally), and I’m moderate with (often sharply expressed) conservative as well as libertarian leanings, what is argued in favor of “PR” is good and deserves consideration by everyone.

    http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/polit/damy/prlib.htm

  11. DLS, your brand of GOP is going to be dead and buried within the next 8 years. Too many on the far right think the Gov’t is only there to harass immigrants, force christian prayer in schools, stop abortions, and prevent gay people from getting hitched. Basically anything but actually doing the work that will keep this country dominant down the road.

    You “Real” GOP have pretty much shafted education, healthcare, and our national debt worrying about stupid shit that ultimately doesn’t affect you one bit. Great work.

  12. > DLS, your brand of GOP

    Mine would be largely libertarian, returning to constitutional federalism (a minimalist federal government), with more care and attention paid to our adversaries abroad (and suppressed if necessary, which would be prudent) as well as security of our borders and such (sane authoritarian diversions from libertarianism).

    > is going to be dead and buried within the next 8 years.

    It’s already dead — FDR killed it. Though some recovery is possible as Americans become exhausted in the future with more government program failures. We saw that in 1980, and also in 1994. That’s despite the likely extension of Medicare to all citizens (illegal aliens, too, if the Democrats have their way). Or, likely, also because of that, eventually.

    The current GOP in Washington, or the Bush administration? The 2006 results were not only thumbs down on Bush and Iraq, but also because of too many GOP politicians have been behaving like their Democratic counterparts — they are corrupted by power and by big money, and plenty of them are happy with big government.

    > Too many on the far right

    BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZT

    I’m not on the far right. Please stop misusing that term the way liberals on here do constantly to dishonestly mischaracterize anyone and everyone to the right of the DLC. You put yourself in the company of radicals when you behave this way.

    The far right has next to zero presence or influence in the federal government. (It’s excluded in particular because immigration reform measures offend the business community, which wants to exploit immigrants as cheap labor. The far right has as much influence on immigration reform as do similar-goal-seeking environmentalists on the Left. The Religious Right is not worshiped — pun intended — but is exploited by the GOP leadership to the point the Religious Right has valid complaints about it.)

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