Today’s Courier Herald Column:
I have met a lot of people because of my work in and around politics. Candidates are among the hardest to really get to know. An astute observer realizes that a candidate is always campaigning, and you’re never really sure if they’re in campaign mode or you’re getting a look at the “real” person.
It’s been my experience that you learn much more about a person after they lose a race than after they win. If they won, you ask “Did they keep their promises? Do they remember the people who helped them succeed? Did they “change”?” But how a person handles defeat says a lot more about them.
I didn’t know Karen Handel before she ran for Governor. While I spoke to her occasionally during the campaign, most of my contact was through her husband Steve. I got to know him fairly well then. He was the spouse of a candidate and I was a political writer, so while our conversations were direct, we both understood there were limits to where the conversations would go. Over time, most of our conversations became non-political, as we both were in need of a break from the constant discussion of politics in general and the Gubernatorial campaign specifically. We became and remain good friends.
After the race I got to know Karen better. I’m confident she’s the person I had hoped she was when she was campaigning.
It’s clear both she and Steve still wish she had won, but neither dwell on it. They have moved on, with purpose. I am proud to now call them both my friends.
Karen is now the Senior Vice President for Public Policy for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. With this position, she has been able to dive into a cause she believes in with equal vigor to that of her past campaigns. Breast cancer is personal with Karen. It has touched the lives of many close to her. As for the job, it was also a position that allowed for a lower profile – until yesterday, when it was reported that the Komen foundation will no longer fund Planned Parenthood with Komen grant money.
Planned Parenthood quickly turned the news into a fundraising opportunity. As such, they’ve cast Handel as the villain, with the Planned Parenthood PR machine having every morning program I could scan on Thursday indicating Komen’s new “right wing extremist” VP was to blame for Komen getting political. Planned Parenthood has clearly made Karen Handel and her pro-life views the central issue in this controversy.
The problem is, Komen became political when they first started contributing to Planned Parenthood. It makes no sense for an organization such as Komen to entangle their narrowly focused mission with that of the wider scope and much more controversial Planned Parenthood. And even before Karen was hired there, it was already an issue in conservative circles.
As such, in whatever role she played, Karen Handel was a part of the executive team that restored the Komen foundation back to its original mission. In the short term, both organizations have claimed donations are up. In the long run, Komen can return to a being the leading organization trying to cure breast cancer – something those who are pro-life and pro-choice can equally support.
The irony of this situation is that less than 2 years ago, Handel was being openly called a pro-abortionist murderer by pro-life advocates here in Georgia, despite her views matching the national Right To Life standards. Georgia Right To Life President Dan Becker got extra personal, calling Handel “barren” and “infertile”. His Executive Director, Melanie Crozier, later claimed that Handel would have felt it was OK for Sarah Palin to have aborted her last child. They went so far as to endorse every Republican candidate except Handel, including one who had been accused of an inappropriate relationship with his 16 year old student, just to underscore their point.
Georgia Right To Life remains unrepentant, telling the AJC Thursday that ”If Ms. Handel has been involved in this decision, we’d love to see some credible documentation of that. Unfortunately we have seen none.”
And yet, less than 2 years after Handel’s campaign, these same leaders have announced they are re-branding as the “Peach Tea Party”, as their former mighty influence at the capitol has been significantly diminished. No significant pro-life legislation has passed the legislature since Republicans took control. Yet Karen Handel, branded pro-abortion by this organization, is being denounced as pro-life zealot for her role in stopping a flow of funds to Planned Parenthood.
To be blunt, Karen Handel has done more for the pro-life movement since losing her election than all of Georgia’s pro-life “leaders” and their cadre of endorsed elected officials have.
The election is long over, and the main players have moved on to new roles. In hers, Karen Handel remains the same person, committed to her important issues. Vilified by the far-left and denied by the far right, she continues to work as a private citizen toward goals she expressed as a candidate.
I’m glad I’ve gotten to know her, not just as a candidate, but for the person who she is. And quite frankly, I’m very proud of her today.