Inspiring Women Changing the Political Landscape of the Republican National Convention

Photo courtesy of Bobbi Jo Rohrberg

The theme of Wednesday night’s session of the Republican National Convention was “We Can Change It”. Two of the night’s speakers, Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, bore incredibly powerful testimonies as to how conservative women have changed the landscape of the Republican Party. There were many notable speeches given during the evening, including the impassioned keynote by Vice Presidential candidate Congressman Paul Ryan, but the women captivated the audience with their stories.

Susana Martinez began by reflecting on how far she had come to get to the Forum stage.   “Growing up,” she said, “I never imagined a girl from a border town could one day become a governor. But this is America. Y, en America todo es posible.” Truly, Martinez embodies the idea that all things are indeed possible in America. Growing up, Susana helped her parents launch their own security guard business, trading steady jobs for the possibility of having “the American dream”. In high school, she worked security for church Bingo nights, carrying a .357 Magnum. (Within minutes of her mentioning this detail, “.357 Magnum” became a trending topic on Twitter.) Eventually Martinez became a prosecutor for child abuse/child homicide cases. Describing the work as “gut-wrenching”, she also considered it “the honor of a lifetime”. As a prosecutor, Martinez wound up having to testify against the man who was her boss at the time. Instead of backing down or backing away, she testified, and as a result, lost her job. Undeterred, Susana Martinez sued that boss and won the case, then ran against that same boss for the position of District Attorney and beat him by a huge margin.

Photo courtesy of Gila Forest

What many may not know about Susana Martinez is that for decades, she was actually a member of the Democratic Party, as were her parents. That all changed when some Republicans invited her to lunch. According to Susana, after discussing topics like welfare and the size of government with her hosts, she went out to her car, looked at her husband and said, “I’ll be damned, we’re Republicans!” This line got the loudest applause of the night for Gov. Martinez, and “We’re Republicans” became the second trending topic on Twitter sparked by her words.

When Martinez was eventually elected Governor, she became the first female governor of New Mexico and the first female Hispanic governor in the entire United States. That is an historic achievement. Taking office, the Governor inherited the largest structural deficit in state history, but she worked together with the Democrat-controlled legislature to turn that deficit into a surplus, and did it without raising taxes. As the first Hispanic female governor in history, Martinez noted that when she is out in public, she is often approached by admiring little girls. Of that experience, she says, “It's in moments like these when I'm reminded that we each pave a path. And for me, it's about paving a path for those little girls to follow.”

Governor Martinez is not the only woman paving a path for young girls to emulate. Former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has also blazed an impressive trail. Even her manner of delivery was impressive Wednesday night: she was the only speaker to address the audience without the use of a teleprompter, instead referring to her notes from time to time.

Photo courtesy of the World Economic Forum

Like Martinez, Rice started out as a member of the Democratic Party. In 1982 she switched her affiliation to Republican, partly because she took issue with the foreign policy of Jimmy Carter, and partly because of her father’s history. At the 2000 Republican National Convention, Rice shared, "My father joined our party because the Democrats in Jim Crow Alabama of 1952 would not register him to vote. The Republicans did."

Growing up in a segregated city–Birmingham, Alabama–Rice knew just how much a child’s address could impact his or her opportunities. She shared those concerns during her speech on Wednesday. This section of her remarks stuck a chord with many in the crowd, and also with me, as a teacher of at-risk children: “When I can look at your zip code and can tell whether you are going to get a good education — can I really say that it doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters where you are going? The crisis in K-12 education is a grave threat to who we are. We need to give parents greater choice — particularly poor parents whose kids — most often minorities – are trapped in failing neighborhood schools.   This is the civil rights struggle of our day.”

Photo courtesy of Dell, Inc.

Much like Martinez carries with her the smiles and the hopes of the little girls who approach her on the street, Rice carries with her the hopes of a little girl growing up under Jim Crow. In a portion of her remarks so heartfelt that it drew tears from many in attendance and still more watching at home, Rice reflected on the wisdom and inspiration gained from her parents. These parent’s couldn’t “take her to a movie theater or a restaurant, but they [made] her believe that even though she can’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, she can be President of the United States…and she becomes Secretary of State.”

As Governor Martinez said in her closing statement, “El sueño Americanos es tener exito. “ The American dream is to succeed. Thanks to women like Martinez and Rice, little girls everywhere have reason to believe they can be successful, too.