Karen Handel, former senior vice president of public policy at the Komen Foundation for the Cure (for breast cancer) and former secretary of state (R-Ga.), may be launching a Republican primary bid for the Georgia United States Senate seat in 2014. Most likely, she will be running against the two-term Republican incumbent, Senator Saxby Chambliss, who may find pushback from his past supporters due to his break with Party positions on taxes and immigration. (Or he may retire.) Will a Handel win be good for Georgia and the country?
Handel, age 50, other than not being college educated, is similar to many members of a new breed of young, bright, attractive, aggressive, anti-abortion Republican women who are national or state legislators or lobbyists. These include Charmaigne Yoest, a Ph. D. from the University of Virginia, who is president and CEO of the Americans for United Life (AUL), the first and largest pro-life organization in the US founded in 1971; Marjorie Dannenfelser, a graduate of Duke University and president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which plays the same role that Emily's List does for Democratic women, and Lila Rose, a recent graduate of the University of California and the president of Live Action, a “culture of life” group that she founded when she was fifteen. Like them, Handel is a force to be reckoned with.
She is off to a good start with the recent announcement by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), the largest alliance of Republican state leaders and the only national organization whose mission is to elect state-level Republican officeholders. She will co-chair, along with former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey (R), a new initiative called “Right Women, Right Now.”
Handel and her co-chairman will “work with elected Republican women, party officials and national and local women’s groups to identify, recruit and support 150 qualified women across the country in their campaigns for state level elected office,” said Chris Jankowski, RSLC President. He added that the co-chairmen will look for candidates based on their “electability, fundraising and district history.”
Handel first became involved with Republican politics as chief of staff to former vice president Dan Quayle’s wife, Marilyn. Following that position, she was elected secretary of state in Georgia, from 2007 to 2010, when she resigned to run in a primary bid for governor. She ran on an anti-abortion platform, vowing to dismantle Planned Parenthood. However, Georgia Right to Lifers felt she wasn’t extreme enough, because she was anti-abortion except in cases regarding rap or incest or if the life of the mother was at stake. She lost to Nathan Deal, who went on to become the governor by only 2,500 votes.
In April of 2011, Handel was hired at the Komen Foundation. According to her new book, Planned Bullyhood, she was tasked by Nancy Brinker, founder and CEO, and Liz Thompson, president, to devise a way to sever the Komen Foundation’s grant relationship with Planned Parenthood that began in 2005. Pressure from the right began when the relationship between the two women’s health organizations began. To some, Handel's hiring exacerbated the conversation.
In December of 2011, the Komen Foundation, without informing their 122 affiliates beforehand, announced their decision to defund Planned Parenthood of 19 grants which totalled nearly $600,000. Due to public outrage, the Foundation reversed its decision 72 hours later.
Handel was caught in the crosshairs between Democratically-aligned Cecile Richards, CEO of Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of sexual and reproductive services in the country, and daughter of the late governor of Texas, Ann Richards, and Nancy Brinker, founder and CEO of the Republican-leaning Komen Foundation, the largest breast cancer research and advocacy non-profit in the country. This showdown had been coming for a long time.
Handel resigned. She was vilified by most in the media and labeled the “architect” and the “instigator.” She became a national figure, albeit one with a negative image. Planned Parenthood’s coffers surged; the Komen Foundation’s crumbled.
However, according to RSLC president Chris Jankowski, the public relations fiasco for the Komen Foundation turned out to be a boon for Handel and is being used to her advantage: "We are 100% supportive of Handel in that episode. We believe she handled herself well. It was an absurd distortion of the truth by the extreme left. We are proud to have a pro-life member of the RSLC board."
How will Handel’s past performance reflect her current views? Will she be a good or bad candidate? She is a fighter and only time will tell.