A group of female lawmakers and political candidates joined a former Montana governor in Havre Monday to tell people that what has been called a Republican “War on Women” doesn’t exist.
“This has nothing to do for me about war, ” Judy Martz, who served as Montana’s first woman governor, from 2001-2005, said during the presentation in the Havre High School auditorium Monday. “It is something fictitious and made up. Stick to our issues, ladies — and gentlemen who have run for office. ”
Martz came to Havre at the invitation of Havre Republicans to talk about issues that pundits have said equate to a “War on Women, ” ranging from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives not taking up reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act to an appropriations bill from the House subcommittee chaired by Senate candidate Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., that would eliminate funding for family planning.
The focus of most of the speakers, who included Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, Republican Hill County commissioner candidate Debi Rhines, Montana superintendent of public instruction candidate Sandy Welch and Ronnalee Skees, wife of Montana auditor candidate Rep. Derek Skees, R-Whitefish, was on efforts to end or reduce abortion.
When Warburton introduced Ronnalee Skees, she cited Skees’ 25 years of experience working in youth homeless shelters and pregnancy crisis centers.
“With an eye on the future for people who are in crisis, Ronnalee’s vision is for help up, not a handout, when it comes to social programs, ” Warburton said.
Skees said she was not in Havre to talk about politics.
“I want to talk about the issue that is extremely important to our community, and that is women in crisis, ” she said. “So often we hear that there is a social program or there's an outreach program that's going to help, but those programs do not speak directly to life and women and their situations. …
“The issue of abortion is a gigantic issue in the social areas, ” Skees said, “but it's not necessarily an issue for politics unless we start having this war on women. ”
She said the people supporting abortion as an option are making the real war on women — half of babies are women.
Skees said what makes a difference is community, people telling women that they believe in them, that they have a future.
People in community programs want to help people, but people in social programs don’t want to help them because then those workers are out of a job, Skees said.
“So we need to turn it around and get the people through the tunnel and on to self-sufficiency, ” she said. “And that is the real war on women, when we keep them locked in to not believing in themselves any more. ”
Martz said the issue of abortion is not major — while she was lieutenant governor and governor, it only came across her desk about three times, she said.
“The issues that … they are beating us up on are just plain not coming up, ” she said. “When you go to (legislative) session there will be some bills that will speak to it, but very, very few. ”
Warburton cited her and Rep. Jana Taylor of Whitefish being appointed to leadership positions in the 2011 Legislature.
“So I would say there is no war on women in the Republican Party in Montana, ” Warburton said.
She said she carried two right-to-life bills in the 2011 Legislature, as well as bills ranging from buffalo to gun control.
Warburton also sponsored a bill to repeal Montana’s unisex life insurance requirement, the only one in the United States. That requirement ends up costing both men and women more for insurance, she said.
Opponents of bills to repeal the unisex insurance requirement have said they would violate state code and constitutional prohibitions on gender discrimination, and that the bills would allow insurance companies to deny coverage on women’s health issues.
Welch said that when she was going through college, the topic was the glass ceiling, the idea that women could not break into top positions in the country. She said she thought then that it could be women weren’t going into positions that would advance them to leadership. If that hadn’t changed by 2000, she might believe it, Welch said, but by 2000, women were holding many major, important positions.
“It really seems to me that, periodically, this is a theme that just starts coming back up and re-occuring … I’m not buying it now; I didn’t buy it then, ” Welch said.
Martz said pro-choice advocates say the Republicans want to take away their rights. She said she recently was talking to a woman, and Martz said to her, “So then you are saying you are pro-choice. You want to be able to abort or kill a baby. ” Martz said the woman agreed in the end.
“Thank heavens she was listening with her heart ears instead of her … meanness ears, ” Martz added.
She cited religious issues several times during her presentation.
Martz said people have asked her how she could talk as a governor about Jesus Christ.
“I plainly say to them, how can you not? ” she said. “The Bible says, if you deny him in front of man, I will deny you in front of my father who is in heaven, and I’m not afraid of you.
“I have reverent, awesome fear of that guy up there, and I will follow him to the end of the days, ” Martz said. “And so I say to these women, what war? ”