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.