Las Vegas Sun

July 22, 2018

Currently: 80° — Complete forecast

Sun interview:

Women marching to the ballot box

Click to enlarge photo

Lindsey Harmon

In a dark time for the organization she represents, Lindsey Harmon sees bright lights glowing in Nevada and across the nation.

Harmon, the lead advocate in the state for Planned Parenthood, says she’s optimistic that backlash among women to President Donald Trump and conservative congressional Republicans will carry Democrats to Carson City and Washington, D.C., in this fall’s midterm elections.

“I think women are fed up,” she said. “We’re looking at 40 years that Roe v. Wade has made abortion legal in America, and we’re looking at a president who has made every commitment to appoint an anti-abortion judge while also alluding to the fact that he would like to see the decision overturned.

“So based on leverage around the women’s movement and the number of women who are getting engaged in politics, this is not a fight that we will lose or back down from. I think there’s an incredible motivating factor, and I think people are going to come out in droves.”

A big part of Harmon’s job is to make that happen. Her formal title is executive director of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, the nonprofit that serves as the political arm of the two Planned Parenthood regional organizations that operate in Nevada. Harmon’s chief responsibilities are overseeing electoral operations and setting legislative priorities.

The stakes could hardly be higher. Planned Parenthood beat back a defunding effort by congressional conservatives in 2017 only to suffer a new blow this month when Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he was stepping down. For the organization, which provides abortions and birth control, Kennedy’s departure and the possibile appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, the conservative judge whom Trump selected to replace him, pose a threat to patients’ abortion rights and access to contraceptives.

In an interview with the Sun, Harmon discussed the court, the midterms and Planned Parenthood’s efforts to create a blue wave in Nevada and beyond. Edited excerpts follow.

What do you wake up thinking about?

We’re focused on the SCOTUS appointment, we’re looking to unseat (Nevada’s) Dean Heller (from the Senate), and we’re also very closely watching the governor’s race and making sure that we get Steve Sisolak into office.

What’s your message to voters in the race between Heller and Rep. Jacky Rosen?

We recognize that race as a pivotal opportunity to not only influence the Supreme Court nomination but for Democrats to get control of the Senate. We know Heller has promised to protect Nevadans with pre-existing conditions in the past who were covered by Medicaid, but then abandoned his constituents when he voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

He’s voted nine times to block access to birth control and cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood, and he has said he would protect PP at a town hall (but) then the next day rejected it.

So we see him as completely in Trump’s pocket and bowing down to special-interest groups instead of supporting Nevadans. Nevada is a pro-choice state, and when we put elected officials in office, we expect them to represent the interests of their constituents.

(Rosen) has been against efforts to curtail affordable health care and has worked hard to protect access (to birth control and safe abortions). She has come out as a supporter of Planned Parenthood. Especially in this election cycle, it’s been very clear where the candidates stand on Planned Parenthood.

How about in the governor’s race?

Steve Sisolak is kind of in the same boat as Rep. Rosen. He came out with ads very early on that said, “I support Planned Parenthood.” These candidates could come out and say, “I support women’s reproductive rights” or, “I’m pro-choice,” but they’re taking it one step further and saying they support the work of Planned Parenthood.

Meanwhile, Adam Laxalt’s record has been absolutely clear: He is anti-abortion rights, anti-women’s rights. He recently came out in support of crisis pregnancy centers, and he also recently supported the religious refusal rule, which would allow pharmacists to deny patients access to birth control or the abortion pill.

What’s the strategy for engaging and energizing voters?

We’re part the Win Justice Coalition, which involves Color Of Change PAC, Immigrant Voters Win Nevada and PLAN Action. We’re looking to mobilize voters who’ve traditionally had a low propensity to turn out for midterms. This is a group of about 200,000 voters, and we’re looking to find 500 of those who’ll turn into advocates in their own communities. We’re using peer-to-peer networking, digital engagement, knocking on doors. We’re looking for younger voters — under the age of 35 and women of color.

What’s your strategy on the Supreme Court nomination?

Our state role is primarily to unseat Dean Heller, but nationally we are delaying, we are making sure that any appointment goes on the record as to where they stand on abortion rights and Roe v. Wade. We know they’re going to come out and say, “Well, that’s precedent.” That’s not enough for us. We want to know where these candidates stand on overturning Roe v. Wade and, based on Trump’s commitment to appoint an anti-abortion judge, we know where they stand. So from Planned Parenthood’s perspective, no candidate is the right choice for this position.

Why do you think you’ll prevail?

Thirty-four thousand women are running for office nationwide, including 500 in the top seats. In Nevada, we’re looking at a potential for women to hold the majority in the Legislature.

That, for me, is the shining light here.

You know, as long as everything’s going along just fine, I think nobody gets upset or watches the issues. I think (the converse) has never been clearer than it was with the women’s march. That was the largest march in history. And then the beautiful part of it is that after that, women said, “That’s not enough. We have to run for office.”

If we elect Jacky Rosen, we’ll have two female senators. Then to also have a majority of women at the state level, it’s incredible to think about.