Why One Prominent Republican Finally Decided to Leave It
It has been hard for Eileen Padberg as a long-standing Republican and a woman. Incessantly questioned by her female friends and co-workers over the years for her political activism, Eileen nevertheless held firm. A believer in individual rights and liberties, the Republican Party seemed the right party for her when she registered over fifty years ago. Eileen proudly campaigned for Barry Goldwater in the 60’s, Richard Nixon in the 1970s. In the 1960’s she joined the John Birch Society and then led The Young Republicans. Eileen went on to campaign vigorously for the Republican Party on local, state and national levels, advocating the party’s core values that she held near and dear to her heart.
Eileen first started questioning her loyalty to the Republican Party in the 1980s during debates for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). One Republican stated, “If we pass this bill, husbands will leave their wives for their secretaries, and everyone will have to use the same restroom.” (1) This absurd statement became a cathartic moment for Eileen. She realized that in politics, we need more women at the table, and that “if women are not at the table, they will be the main course.” (1) Most significantly, in that moment, Eileen Padberg became a Feminist.
As the years went by, Eileen continued to hope that her Republican Party would change. She advocated for the removal of abortion from the party platform, considering it contrary to the Republican core values of individual rights and liberties. Eileen states, “How much more in your life can the government get? Abortion should be a personal decision-not one made by a white, male congressman.” (1) She also experienced the decimation of Title IX women’s insurance, including the removal of birth control as a covered benefit. Furthermore, Eileen and her fellow female constituents failed to receive support from the male-dominated Republican Party on most bills regarding environmental issues. As a result, she witnessed most environmental bills fail to pass, signaling an even greater divide between the two genders. The undertone surrounding these debates revealed a very dark, insidious, anti-woman rhetoric. These events left Eileen feeling utterly alone in the Republican Party, advocating for women’s rights and causes about which women generally felt strongly, but men generally did not.
Eileen began to feel the Republican Party “dying by a million cuts.” She received a call four years ago from Loretta Sanchez, a former female congresswoman, stating “There are at least a hundred bills every day, on the floor of Congress, that are anti-woman and threaten women’s rights… in some shape or form”(1) Eileen went on to say that “We do not have enough Republican women to fight this. Last year we had 23 Republican women, This year we have 19. Republicans do not help women get elected. It is very disheartening.” (1)
Indeed, women are sorely unrepresented in our country. Statistics released in 2017 reveal that the United States ranked 97th on the list of countries with adequate female representation, with 100 being the worst. (2) In fact, the US ranked as having the lowest representation of any developed country, just above Kurdistan. For example, Rwanda has 39% female representation, while Afghanistan has 27%, and the United States has 23%. (2) Eileen viewed these statistics as a reason to stay within the Republican Party, and to continue advocating for women’s rights. She states, “Equal representation of women in our Congress is essential. The fact that we do not have it is incredible to me. We have so much work to do in our own country.” (1) For as long as Eileen can remember, women candidates have lacked the support of her party. The Republican Party is still shaped by what is known as “the good ol boy’s network,” where men use their positions, power, and influence to help other men. This makes politics today more about who you know rather than what you know, which is alarming considering these are the men making decisions regarding our lives, businesses, and femininity.
For Eileen, the Kavanaugh hearings represented the straw that broke the camel’s back. Eileen states, “I do not surmise that she (Christine Blasey Ford) was right or wrong, but …I know the Brett Kavanaugh’s of the world. I’ve met hundreds of them in my career. He is the ultimate party boy and probably did not think what he did was abusive or wrong. My point is, the treatment of her was so atrocious… She was a credible witness, not somebody looking for a job or to make money. Her family suffered. She had to flee her home. She suffered death threats. And Brett Kavanaugh? He was appointed to a lifetime position … to a position that is going to affect women for their whole lives… she suffered immensely.” (1) After the last day of the hearings, Eileen Padberg called and changed her voter’s registration from Republican to nonpartisan. She simply could not support a party that no longer supported her or her fellow women and treated them with such disrespect. Eileen Padberg, a woman with a stellar reputation in her party, a woman who supported her party against all odds, and a woman who tried repeatedly to assist her party in evolving and attracting more women, finally left it. She states, “people who found out were incredulous, but I could not take it.” (1)
Following the Kavanaugh hearings, Eileen Padberg reflects on the future of the Republican Party and its relationship with women. When asked if she thinks the Republican Party will ever remove abortion from their platform, she answers, “No, and they are doomed until they do.” She goes on to assert that “The Republican Party has a huge problem with women. In this last election we really saw it. Anne Wagner, a well-known, vetted, and experienced politician was going to run for the National Republican Congressional Committee…Kevin McCarthy, the majority leader for Republicans would not support her. He picked (to support) a less experienced white guy. “ (1) In essence, despite her best efforts, nothing really has changed in the Republican Party regarding women.
In the aftermath of Eileen’s resignation from the Republican Party, she has moved on to nonpartisan politics-specifically in the areas that will help her fellow women. Last weekend she helped organize and participate in a fundraiser for a women’s shelter called WISEPlace, which stands for “Women Inspired, Supportive, and Empowered.” This shelter assists unaccompanied, homeless women, and has provided such assistance for the past thirty-one years. The capital campaign, of which Eileen co-chaired, raised a quarter of a million dollars. Now that, Eileen, is something that WILL make a difference.
- Phone Interview, Eileen Padberg by Katherine Fry, December 10, 2018