In 2010, Debbie Brown wanted to change the conversation. In 2016, she’s leading it – and giving other Colorado women their place at the microphone.
Brown formed the Colorado Women’s Alliance in 2010, after running Republican Mike Coffman’s successful campaign for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives. During the same election cycle, news of the “war on women” and its effect on equal pay and reproductive rights dominated Democrats’ campaigns and the airwaves: women voters in Colorado swung to the left in their state’s Senate race, and Brown took notice.
“We created and led a coalition in Colorado, collaborating with a couple other efforts, that to my knowledge wasn’t duplicated anywhere else,” Brown said. She founded the Colorado Women’s Alliance after the 2010 race,focusing on expanding women’s issues: today, the group concentrates its efforts in affordable energy, health care, education, and the economy. “What we are seeing trend-wise is that women are a little bit tired of being scared by the ‘war on women’ strategy,” Brown told The Denver Post. “It just feels a little bit old.”
Today, Brown serves as the CWA’s Executive Director. “Our mission is to support research, education and advocacy in areas of concern to women voters,” she explained. “We provide a center-right viewpoint on women’s issues, which provides a voice for many women in the marketplace of ideas and policy.” Her efforts paid off in 2012: even though President Obama won the state, Colorado was the only swing state with more women than men voting for challenger Mitt Romney.
Brown believes that the key for politicians to understand women voters is to understand that not all women vote alike. “I am particularly drawn to the research we do with unaffiliated women. The fact is, there is one voter group that will play a significant role in determining who wins the Oval Office: women,” she noted. “Women are not a homogeneous voting bloc, but they do constitute a majority of likely voters, and women turn out to vote at higher rates than men. Women are certainly not one-issue voters. Instead, women want to know where a candidate stands on all issues, not a narrow few.”
“In February, I enjoyed a media training day hosted by CWA that focused on communication vehicles, maximizing and developing your message, self-introductions, and positive versus defensive responses,” said Katherine Hartzler, Jet Linx Denver Vice President of Finance. “Although the information was primarily focused on those in the room who were local politicians, I found the topics very relevant to my role at Jet Linx. The room was filled to capacity and the level of presentation was to the highest standard.”
Brown first met Hartzler when Brown participated in a flight with Prayer One. Hartzler volunteers her time with Prayer One, co-founded by JetLinx Denver Base Partner & President Jeff Puckett. The group takes flights over Denver in Puckett’s helicopter ‘Yellow Bird’ as a means of building common ground between passengers. Originally started to bring together religious leaders in the community to pray over the city, Prayer One’s mission has expanded to offer flights to schoolchildren, politicians, and even members of gangs. “At that time, she was on a Prayer One flight and a political consultant,” Hartzler recalled. “We reconnected in September 2015 during a Western Energy Alliance Car Show hosted by Jet Linx Denver. During that warm September evening we walked around admiring the collector cars and discussed having Jet Linx Denver host a CWA event.”
“The Colorado Women’s Alliance event hosted at Jet Linx Denver was an opportunity for the organization to invite their group of top supporters and donors and discuss current political and social issues CWA faces,” recalled Matt Hall, Jet LInx Denver Director of Sales. Topics included the ways that CWA is working to support, educate, and advocate women voters. Hall noted that the event was educational for him, despite being outside of the group’s target audience. “There are several pressing issues facing women that I, as a male, have not been entirely aware of,” he said. “It was very insightful to hear the statistics from surveys of women and what they find important with this year’s presidential election.”
CWA’s work lobbying in the state of Colorado was a highlight of the evening. “CWA has a very strong lobbyist presence for representing women in Colorado and help pressure political and social issues that are important to women. This event was an opportunity to inform top supporters of how their donations are being used,” Caffrey continued. The group focuses on the issues of affordable energy, health care, education, and the economy: issues that they say uniquely impact women.
Carol Perry serves on CWA’s Board of Directors, and has been involved with the group for over six years. “What attracted me the most to the Colorado Women’s Alliance is that it is the only true source of reliable, and useful information for the largest group of voters – that being the female vote,” she said. “Prior to CWA’s founding, there was no resource for women to go to that would be a source of information, as well as strategy, that would address the issues that are relevant to women.” John Andrews, another member of CWA’s Board and a supporter of the organization since its inception, agreed that Colorado Women’s Alliance stands out. “For me, what sets CWA apart as an impact player in Colorado politics is its non-ideological focus on the real concerns of real women in the real world, and its data-driven professionalism in metrics and messaging,” he said.
Perry stressed the need for women voters to have a reputable source for information on political issues, and is glad to see Colorado Women’s Alliance fill that need. “By using the strategies and information that Debbie [Brown] has developed, groups that are both political and non-political can develop marketing approaches that are based on verifiable factual information. Not only does this separate CWA from other organizations, it also allows women to believe that their ‘voice’ is being heard in an objective way.”
The group supports women’s participation in dialogue within their communities: efforts to encourage women to speak up include training events for women in politics and in business. Perry sees the educational aspects as critical to CWA’s mission and success. “CWA has also begun to promote an environment of education for women that will aid them in their choices of both career and politics. The continuing education programs have covered topics from how to deal with the media to networking strategies for emerging leaders,” she said. “This aspect of the CWA mission has proven to be extremely effective for those women who are just beginning their journey of success, and is an area that truly separates CWA from others.”
Hartzler saw the value in CWA’s mission immediately. “Local and national politics are currently on everyone’s radar,” she said. “Women have a prominent role in political campaigns. As noted on the CWA website, 74% of registered women voters were unaffiliated. Politicians want that vote.” Hartzler cited Colorado Women’s Alliance’s issues – including affordable energy, healthcare, education, and the economy – as reasons for women across the state to come to action. “It encourages us to stay involved and advocate in our local and national communities,” she said. “Our vote can make a difference.”