Reagan Is Shortchanging Women, Says GOP Feminist Kathy Wilson, and He May Pay for It Next Year at the Polls
The gender gap isn’t news to Ronald Reagan’s advisers; even before his election as President, after endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment was dropped from the 1980 Republican platform, polls showed him to be more popular with men than with women. Now, says Kathy Wilson, 31, the Republican head of the National Women’s Political Caucus, his standing with women is so low that, barring a reversal of his positions on a broad range of issues, he should not seek reelection. Speaking at a national convention of the 77,000-member NWPC, the lifelong Republican called the President “a dangerous man” with regard to women’s rights. “Women want Ronald Reagan to know that if he steps on our toes we may kick him out of office.” The daughter of a Navy pilot, Wilson is a graduate of the University of Missouri, where she also earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology. She lives now in Alexandria, Va. with her husband, Paul, a Republican political consultant with the McLean, Va. firm of Bailey, Deardourff and Associates (which has represented former President Gerald Ford and Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker), and their daughter, Casey Rose, 2. She discussed her views with PEOPLE Senior Writer Kristin McMurran.
Can you cite examples of the President’s insensitivity to women’s rights?
Women shouldered a disproportionate share of the Reagan budget cuts, particularly in education and employment. He has eliminated a substantial number of women’s jobs in the federal government and cut back job training. His Administration has proposed new regulations that no longer require most federal contractors to submit affirmative-action plans. This reverses 20 years of progress for women.
Do you have other complaints?
The Reagan Administration actively promotes policies to deprive women of access to adequate family-planning services and safe legal abortions. It’s also clear that many women do not have confidence in the President’s ability to keep us out of war. And I haven’t even started talking about his regressive policies that have reduced the number of publicly funded clinics, severely cut back school-lunch programs, and forced women out of work and onto welfare when child-care programs lost funding.
Is Ronald Reagan a chauvinist?
He’s insensitive to the needs of women. We have tried for two years to meet with him, but he will not see women’s groups. I don’t think there is any woman within shouting distance of the President.
How important will the women’s vote be in the 1984 elections?
Consider that women comprise 53 percent of the population. More than two-thirds of them are registered voters, and in 1980 six million more women than men voted. Women could well determine who the next President is.
Didn’t Reagan win a plurality of women’s votes in 1980?
It was an anti-Carter vote as much as anything. Even so, only 49 percent of the women who voted cast ballots for Ronald Reagan, as opposed to 53 percent of the men.
What kind of Republican are you?
I believe in individual rights and the absence of government interference in those rights. I believe in the party that was first, some 40 years ago, to include the ERA in its platform; the party that actively recruits women candidates at all levels. I have worked for scores of Republican candidates, but I’m not going to toe the party line when I have a President who seeks to send me down the time tunnel as a woman.
How did you react to Sandra Day O’Connor’s appointment?
A lot of us were thinking, well, maybe there is some hope here. But that clearly was a milestone that ended up masking the need for greater representation at all levels of the judiciary. Reagan has made 121 judicial appointments but has appointed only 10 women. Those numbers are grim.
What is the most important women’s issue of the ’80s?
The economic-equity issue. Since 1966 we’ve gone from making 62 cents for every dollar that a man makes to only 59 cents. The Economic Equity Act is a bipartisan package designed to help divorced or widowed women who need to support themselves and who don’t have job skills. It offers reforms to improve wives’ pension rights, to provide nondiscriminatory insurance plans, and to broaden eligibility for child-care tax credits, among other things. The President has not endorsed the package.
Which Democratic candidate for President most impresses you?
The five candidates who came to our convention [Mondale, Glenn, Hart, Cranston and Hollings] all made a statement by being there. Each of those men seems committed to women’s rights, but it wouldn’t be appropriate to select one at this point because it might be construed as an endorsement, and there are women in our organization working in every one of those campaigns.
What role will the caucus play in 1984?
While we have traditionally not endorsed a presidential candidate because our members have worked in both parties, we may well do so this time if Ronald Reagan is the Republican nominee. I believe we will see a woman nominated for Vice-President in either this election or the next, and we will see a woman President by the time my daughter is out of college.
To what experience do you trace your involvement in feminism?
In 1974, after college, I went to work in convention sales for a Kansas City hotel. After 10 months on the job I was the best salesperson on the staff, and I was asked to train two men for the job. Then I found out they were each making $100 a week more than I was. When I asked my supervisor why, he said, “Because they are men.” His ears got red and I quit. From that moment I knew I wanted to dedicate a portion of my life to working for women.
How has your mother reacted to your activities?
There is a part of her that initially viewed some of my activities as a repudiation of her life-style. My mother was a full-time homemaker and I’m a part-time homemaker. But I think she is very proud of me now and really believes in what I’m doing, and she is not going to vote for President Reagan, which pleases me.