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Powerplayer: Planned Parenthood Director Paula Hodges

Monday, March 12, 2012


This week's PowerPlayer is Planned Parenthood director Paula Hodges. Ms. Hodges was kind enough to chat with GoLocalProv about the organization's top priorities heading into election season.

1) You recently came to Rhode Island from Missouri. What are your top three priorities at Planned Parenthood?

  • Engaging and energizing our supporters into action around targeted legislative advocacy and campaigns;
  • Educating RI policy makers that 90% of what we do at Planned Parenthood is preventative and committing to find ways to work with moderate lawmakers about how to help Rhode Islanders accesstotal reproductive health care;
  • Expanding the Medicaid family program in Rhode Island so that for every $1 Rhode Island dedicates to family planning, the state would receive $9 in federal funds to help low income women prevent unplanned pregnancies. It’s a no-brainer and every lawmaker who wants to decrease abortion rates should support this program.

2) Rhode Island is considered a pretty liberal state. How is your job different here than it would be in a place like Texas?

Although many people consider Rhode Island voters more progressive than in Midwestern states, most of our state legislators are far from supportive of women’s reproductive rights. I wish I could say that we are just minding the flock, but instead there’s a strange cone of silence and tendency here to brush reproductive health care under the rug. I suppose that could largely be due to the fact that family planning programs in RI are woefully underfunded, so there’s nowhere to go but up.

However, if I were to work in Texas, or Missouri, which is a better example for me to use because I am all too aware of the challenges facing advocacy groups having worked for Missouri NEA, America Votes and the Secretary of State. In Missouri there are eight year term limits and no campaign finance limits. So, as opposed to RI, we would be up against a much larger influx of campaign cash and a steep learning curve with legislators who are on expedited political paths. A standard House race could cost upwards of $100,000 and candidates have to find 12,000 or more votes to be viable. Meanwhile inRI, House races are more akin to the size of a Missouri school board election, where you can win with 1200 votes and potentially $15,000.

So if we’re comparing notes, the electorate of Rhode Island is akin to St. Louis County, and I used to run political operations for a state eight times as large as Rhode Island. I am exhilarated by the manageability of Rhode Island’s size and I believe that if we’re strategic and targeted, we can make a sizable impact on the electorate.

3) Take us through a day in your life.

One of my dogs rudely interrupts my slumber around 6:15 a.m. and we take off for a 5k around the neighborhood. Before leaving the house, I scan online news stories and send out RI political news clips to staff and allies. I generally have a series of meetings with stakeholders, tune into national briefing calls and oversee shifts of volunteers doing data entry, legislative tracking, community outreach, voter registration – we do it all! In the afternoons I may prowl around the State House to strategize with legislators and allies or participate in other community engagement events. When possible, I like to make dinner at home, it’s a way to compartmentalize, reflect on the day and move on to the next.

4) How much do you intend to get involved in 2012 elections? Will you target specific candidates? Care to share any secrets with us?

We’re going to be fine-tuned around the election working through Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island and our state PAC. We will fold into the national “Women are Watching” campaign and hold awareness and accountability actions around the state. We will work in solidarity with our coalitions and have a laser focus on training up a grassroots army to fold into prioritized state level races. In terms of trade secrets, I’m a certified voter file and data management ninja and know how to make the data work for us and our candidates.

5) Tell us something nobody knows about you.

I have a business plan drawn up just in case politics finally wears me out. I plan to open a pet friendly inn where folks can come, check in for the weekend with their furry friends. But the catch is, we’ll house the pets in the lap of luxury in a second guest house so that everyone is happy and enjoys a stress-free, no obligation getaway. And the fresh baked dog biscuits will be on the house!

Quick Hitters

Role Model: Give ‘Em Hell Harry S. Truman

Favorite Restaurant: This is a toughie, because I’m still making the rounds! But we love the Coast Guard House for the view. On a sentimental note, I also enjoy Café Zog because it was there, sitting in one of their booths last Fall on vacation when I realized we were going to make our move from Missouri to Rhode Island a reality.

Best Beach: YTD

Best Book You've Read in the Last Year: Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All with Cocktails, Recipes & Formulas by Brad Thomas Parsons

Advice for the Next Paula Hodges: Stay focused and see the humor in irony, be persistent and proactive, indulge in good food & drink once in a while, keep your enemies close but your friends closer.


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