K Street women seek closer ties to female lawmakers

“The aim is to support the growth of women running for office”

A collection of female lobbyists and organizations is launching a new bipartisan effort, called 131 & Counting, to build connections with the unprecedented number of women serving in Congress and to encourage more women to run for office. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The 131 female lawmakers on Capitol Hill have inspired a new collaboration on K Street that swaps in girl power for the ol’ boys club.

A collection of female lobbyists and organizations is launching a new bipartisan effort, called 131 & Counting, to fete the unprecedented number of women serving in the House and Senate (including four nonvoting delegates), to build connections with them, and to encourage more women to run for office.

“The aim is to support the growth of women running for office,” said Miranda Franco, a senior policy adviser with the firm Holland & Knight, who came up with the idea. “We want to help support these women and serve as a forum for women officials.”

As the effort gets underway, at least four female lawmakers are already eyeing higher office with 2020 White House bids.

In addition to Holland & Knight, the new group is a joint initiative of Women Impacting Public Policy, Women in Government Relations, the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia, and Young Government Leaders. Comcast and Bloomberg Government are also sponsors.

131 & Counting will officially kick off Feb. 6 with a meet-and-greet reception at the Oracle Townhouse on Capitol Hill. Judy Schneider, a specialist on Congress at the Congressional Research Service, will give remarks. And at least 20 female lawmakers have said they will attend, organizers said, including Democratic Reps. Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts, Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, and Republican Rep. Carol Miller of West Virginia, among others.

“We’ve invited all 131 members and also some women who just recently retired,” said Franco, a health care lobbyist. “We want to take a moment to reflect and to think thoughtfully about ways we can continue to improve that number and have people connect with women who have spent decades in D.C. devoting their careers to public service.”

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Franco envisions future events that might include panels and roundtables about women in business, the gender wage gap and other policy matters.

Candace Waterman, president and CEO of the advocacy group Women Impacting Public Policy, said she signed on to 131 & Counting as a way to forge connections with the women of the new Congress.

WIPP represents women in business, especially those with federal contracts or whose business intersects with the government.

“This partnership with the other groups within 131 & Counting really provides all of us an opportunity to have access and broaden our reach,” Waterman said. “This reception celebrating the women of the 116th Congress is just the first stake in the sand because 131 & Counting has scheduled events throughout the course of the year, so we can stay in touch.”

Republicans, too

Though a record number of Democratic women won election last year, including 35 new House members, Republican women lost seats and are down to 13 in the chamber. 131 & Counting wants to give GOP women a boost, too.

“I just feel like they need to be supportive of each other and develop relationships with people who are going to encourage women office holders,” said Kathryn Lehman, a former House Republican leadership aide, who is now a lobbyist with Holland & Knight. “There’s a lot of wisdom and advice of people who have been around a long time. We want to help the women, new and old.”

Nancy Ortmeyer Kuhn, who co-chairs the women in politics committee of the Women’s Bar Association, said the new effort made sense after the strides women made in the 2018 elections and added she’d like to encourage women of both parties to run for office.

“Women, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, we think should be in Congress in greater numbers,” she said. “My observation is that women are very excited and very empowered by the results of the 2018 election, and it’s a very encouraging sign that women will stay involved in the political process.”

Though 131 & Counting is not a fundraising effort, it will connect the female lawmakers with a likely collection of potential political donors. Not only did a record number of women run for office last cycle but more women than ever before donated to congressional candidates.

“These are exciting times for women in government and in leadership,” said Emily Bardach, executive director of Women in Government Relations, whose members include lobbyists, lawmakers, and government staffers. “We’ve been raising our voice on issues like safe working environments related to harassment and equal pay and diversity and inclusion.”

“We hope to just build relationships with these new members of Congress, so they know that WGR is a resource for them,” she added.

Franco said she hopes the new group will flourish along with women in politics.

“I do think people are motivated by the trailblazers, not just in the 116th Congress but before that and understanding that this can be done,” Franco said. “People have been called to action and are responding to that call.”

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