The underestimated women’s issue

As published in The Washington Times on October 30, 2018

As candidates make their closing arguments in the final days of this year’s midterm campaign, pundits will rightly focus on the impact of women voters on the outcome. But it’s also likely that most will miss important points because women aren’t the monolithic voting block the media portrays them to be. We care about much more than what they choose to associate with us.

Today’s women voters assess a vast array of policy matters, and the most important inflection points are determined by overlapping values. A prime example is their strong support for innovation in American energy, motivated by core values of economic freedom, national security and environmental stewardship.

This is particularly true of conservative women like ourselves and the independent middle-class, suburban female voters who will decide some of the most important races in 2018.

For many of us, diversifying our nation’s energy portfolio with cleaner, domestic sources is as much about energy independence as it is about climate. We recognize that the geopolitical landscape is becoming increasingly unstable. We seek policies that both protect families and ensure America’s electric grid remains secure in the face of increasing cyber attacks and fickle foreign oil markets.

It’s not surprising that women are often leading the charge in many of these areas. More and more Republican women lawmakers have taken outstanding strides in promoting commonsense energy policy.

Just a few weeks ago, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, chaired an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing to discuss “blackstart,” the process by which electricity would be restored to the power grid after a potential systemwide failure. Her words and images warned many conservative and independent women.

“Imagine a day where everybody living within an interconnected electrical system loses power. Hundreds of millions of people would be left in the dark, power lines would no longer be energized, and generating stations would be off,” the senator explained.

“It means your lights would be off, your air conditioning would be out, and appliances like your oven, your refrigerator, and your cell phone charger would no longer be working,” she said. “America cannot operate without electricity service, and we must have plans in place to restore power to our grid.”

A month prior to Mrs. Murkowski’s blackstart hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the National Risk Management Center, an organization that will protect U.S. critical assets. The center is focused on addressing potential threats, both physical and cyber, to our banks and electric grid. The creation of the center arrives at the heels of Russia’s hacking campaign to infiltrate organizations associated with U.S. electricity.

Last year, Rep. Elise Stefanik, New York Republican, introduced H.R. 3855, the Securing the Electric Grid to Protect Military Readiness Act of 2017. This bipartisan legislation, co-introduced by Nevada Democrat Jacky Rosen, will optimize and reinforce our nation’s grid against foreign attacks, reporting on security risks as well as their impact on military readiness.

Unfortunately, analysts frequently try to cast these Republican women and others as “out of line” with the issues they think women should prioritize, failing to appreciate that reliable energy is a very important matter for all voters — women and men.

It’s also important to remember that Republican women cannot be pigeonholed by conservative rhetoric either. While we believe in free-market principles, we also acknowledge that public-private partnerships may be central to improving energy security and developing new clean energy resources.

“I’m a big fan of ARPA-E and DARPA funding,” said former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, at a recent Atlantic Council panel on advanced energy.

“There is some research, for example on issues like storage, which could make a big difference when it comes to resiliency and reliability of the grid, that isn’t all going to get done within the private sector because the economic incentives aren’t always directly there to get some of this research done.”

The bottom line is that energy security is a national security issue, and pragmatic voters across all demographics are not willing to ignore it. Candidates unwilling to promote real solutions to pressing economic, security and environmental concerns do so at their own risk. American women intuitively understand that we must not wait to address these problems, and they will remember them in the voting booth on Nov. 6.

Heather Reams is managing director of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) and Rebecca Schuller is executive director of Winning For Women.

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