The Network of enlightened Women is proud of our mission to educate young women on the conservative leaders in our nation. We do this by providing professional development and educational opportunities to our students. NeW hosted Congresswoman-Elect Jen Kiggans (R-VA) who provided leadership advice for young conservative women.
You can find a transcript highlighting the event below:
Karin Lips: Hello, I’m Karin Lips, President of the Network of enlightened Women. Today I’m thrilled to be joined by Congresswoman-Elect Jen Kiggans from Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District. She earned a degree in International Relations from Boston University and taught English in public high schools in Japan. She then served for 10 years in the US Navy, completing two deployments as a helicopter pilot. Using her G.I. Bill, she returned to school after the Navy to become a board-certified adult geriatric primary care nurse practitioner. We are thrilled to have you with us today. Thank you so much Congresswoman-Elect for joining us.
Congresswoman-Elect Jen Kiggans: Gosh, thanks for having me. I appreciate the introduction. It’s great to be here.
Lips: So, can you share with us, I think a lot of our members are really interested in what makes you finally flip the switch and decide to run for Congress. Can you talk about your career path and what made you just run and how many people had to ask you to run before you decided to throw your hat in the ring?
Congresswoman Kiggans: The story goes, I was sitting on the couch yelling at the television and that’s a true story. Man, I would yell. We still do yell at the TV in our house every night, but I just hated politics. I think a lot of us get so frustrated with the negativity and the rhetoric and this name-calling, and the other side is terrible, and it doesn’t need to be that way. I mean, it drove me crazy, so crazy that I decided, well gosh, I can get off my couch and do something about it, too. I saw a lot of Democratic women that had run in 2018 and won seats in Congress and there wasn’t a lot of Republican women that were running for office, especially Republican veteran women.
I thought that I was really underrepresented as a conservative female and just really wanted to have a voice. And so, I figured, well, if they can do it, I can do it, too. And so, the state senator in my district retired kind of suddenly that year, and I literally googled, how do you get on a ballot? And it was a lot of collecting signatures and making fundraising phone calls, those types of things, and really just door-knocking now. Then you had to get out to the community and once we got our name on the ballot, we just went to the carpool moms. And I have four children, so I knew a lot of moms from school and sporting events, and we had a big Navy family because I’m Navy, my husband’s Navy, my kids are Navy. So reached out to them, all of our neighbors and people in my healthcare field, and colleagues.
We really just worked hard with the people we knew and said, “Hey, I don’t like what I see and if you’re as frustrated as we are, I’m going to run this time, so please vote for us.” And we won the primary that year and then worked really, really hard in 2019. That was a tough year for Republicans to win. I was very thankful to win that seat on the state level for the State Senate.
And then just really (I) have learned a lot the past three years. Gosh, just having a seat at the table and still sitting in the minority though in Richmond. And for me, it was very unbalanced. We had a Democratic-controlled Senate, a Democrat-controlled House, and a Democrat in the Governor’s mansion. And we really saw, and I sat through some legislative changes that I didn’t agree with, and it was still frustrating because we would lose a lot of votes, especially issues that were very partisan.
I still felt kind of voiceless and like I wasn’t able to do what I wanted to stand up for things. Even though we would have great floor speeches and we would vote, I still felt like I wasn’t able to impact a lot of change. We saw some change in Virginia last year. We balanced power in the Commonwealth, which was great. And I think a balanced government is a much more impactful and effective form of government. One-party rule is very, I think a dangerous way to govern. It really leads parties to extremes on both sides. I really have enjoyed just the balanced government we have in Virginia right now with a Republican House and a Democratic Senate. We’ve got a Republican in the Governor’s mansion. I saw how much better that was. And I see in DC we had the same kind of one-party rule up in Congress and one party was running the House, the Senate, and the White House.
I didn’t like the changes that I saw, I didn’t like the priorities and so I wanted to run for Congress. It’s always been kind of in the back of my mind, but it was just the timing was good. Redistricting was definitely better for the second district here in Virginia. And it was a little more Republicans and we had learned a lot in the state level, and I had learned a lot about campaigning, and we had no Republican women represented from the Commonwealth and we had three Democratic women. I’m a big believer in balanced power and that all voices should be heard. It’s been just a great honor to be able to run for that seat.
And then it was a great victory and I feel good now. I feel good again because now we have balanced power in Washington, DC. We got a lot of work to do, but it’s a great honor to be there.
Lips: Well, we appreciate you taking the time to speak with our audience today. A lot of our college women feel very isolated and lonely on campus and see that sometimes the loudest voices are more liberal voices and often they feel very, very silenced. Can you talk about any unique challenges you feel like you face as a conservative woman?
Congresswoman Kiggans: Yeah, the resource piece I would say, I mean it was so nice to be a part of… There’s not a lot on the state level, but on the national level there was more, and we would get together and we would do things like hold joint fundraising events and we would do things like hold joint media press events where Elise Stefanik would get us all together and invite all the media and kind of teach us some tricks of the trade. And then we would have the opportunities to speak to (the) press in front of cameras. And then we would be on things like texting chains and group chats and things so that we could support each other. We’d like each other’s social media and comments on each other’s, and share things within our groups. So, it was so nice to have that support system, not just financially and with the press, but also just socially.
Our voices are there. There’s more of us now. We are stronger together. I love being up in Washington, DC now, we just finished orientation. But getting to meet those other women, we’re all running for the same reasons. We’re running for our kids and improving their education and parents having safer communities. For me, the military piece, solving the border crisis from those humanitarian crises that’s (on)going. We all kind of run for common sense. We’re fiscally conservative. We don’t like wasteful spending. We’re concerned about the direction of the country, but these are the reasons why the conservative women were running this year. And we have so much in common and we are just excited that more women ran this cycle than ever, and we can’t wait for next cycle to include more women and to be helpful to them.
Lips: Can you talk to us about what were your policy priorities at the state level? You mentioned supporting a strong military. What do you think your biggest priorities will be at the federal level?
Congresswoman Kiggans: On the state level as a nurse practitioner, we did a lot with… I’m a geriatric nurse practitioner by trade, so a lot with nursing home reform. The older adult population is kind of a voiceless group that doesn’t have a lot of advocates and people in nursing homes and their caregivers aren’t showing up in my office and telling me what they want or sending us letters. It was great to understand their needs of not just the patients and their caregivers, but also the nurses and the healthcare providers. We did a lot with wanting to help with workforce shortages and nursing shortages, expanding nursing scholarships, especially for mental healthcare providers. We feel like there’s not a lot… We all talk about mental healthcare but advocating for the people that actually give the mental healthcare was something that I felt passionately about.
During COVID, we were able to do a lot with isolation and visitation policies and just clarifying that allowing for things like clergy visits, caregivers to be informed. But that’s been something that there’s a lot of work to do. Nursing home reform, I’ve loved doing it on the state level. I look forward to continuing that on the federal level in some capacity. Also, for veterans, on the state level, we do a lot of veteran advocacy. I was able to start a military spouse liaison position. I was a military spouse for 20 years. I know how hard it is to move and establish residency in other places and start your kids in other schools and be familiar with other lots. So having that position now in Richmond that works under the Department of Veterans Services that is there for military spouses, that was kind of a great victory.
But even we’ve made some progress with things like reducing the taxes from military retirement pay, incentivizing our veterans to stay in Virginia and live and raise their families. There’s still work to do, but we are getting there. But those issues that I’ve been passionate about on the state level, I will continue to be passionate about on the federal level. Now it’s active-duty military, not just our veterans that we can take care of and their families, including things like improving our base infrastructures and our quality of life for our sailors, our servicemen and women, and their families. I can’t wait to be an advocate for that. I really want to be involved in the Armed Services Committee and to do some, or possibly appropriations just to do some work with our active-duty military. And then always healthcare. And that’s always going to be an important issue for me as well.
Lips: Well, you mentioned the issue with military spouses and one issue we’ve been working on in NeW is it turns out that there’s some occupational licensing rules that can get changed in the states that can make such a big difference for spouses when they’re moving. We’ve been working on an issue in Tennessee, and I’ve been following a lot of reform that’s been done for military spouses. Can you talk about any other work that you’ve been doing or policy ideas that you’d like to see implemented that could help working women?
Congresswoman Kiggans: Yeah, those ones you mentioned we have seen in Virginia and there’s still some work to do, but how can we make it easier for people who have licensed professions like teachers and nurses specifically but to be able to transfer those licenses so they can be employed and continue their work here in Virginia. I think having that military spouse liaison position is, we didn’t know where to turn. I think part of the battle is getting the word out to our military spouses that this person is here and has the answers to your questions about things like licensures and job opportunities. And it’s hard for military spouses. We move every two to three years, so it’s hard to establish much seniority. Some professions are… I feel like nurses, there’s a lot of opportunities for work. Gosh, now teachers, there’s some jobs that are a little bit easier to transfer, but not all of them.
But we want to help our spouses, men and women, to be able to just find the jobs that they want. I hope that we can get the word out that there are resources out there for our spouses. And then if there’s other areas for improvement, let us know. Let the State Legislatures know, your House Delegates Representative, your State Senators so that we can continue to find meaningful ways to make that transition easier so you can be licensed quicker, faster. If you’re having trouble, reach out to someone so that we can keep that ball rolling for you and make changes so that moving process is easier.
Lips: Well, thank you so much for your words of wisdom today. I wanted to end by asking you if you have any final words of advice for young conservative women on campuses and also if you have any podcasts or books you might recommend to our viewers.
Congresswoman Kiggans: Yeah, so gosh, for advice, I mean there’s other conservative women out there and I think that we are becoming stronger and braver and utilizing our voices more. And you’re going to get attacked for it sometimes, but your skin will get thicker, and find your friends out there. Doesn’t all have to be about politics. I mean on your groups and sports teams and friends; I mean you can make friends and keep politics out of it. But when it comes to, if you are interested in that and being politically inclined and active, find those friends because they are out there. They are either at churches or they are living in your housing, or they are there. Find them and you’re stronger together.
And then your voices should be just as strong as the other side. Don’t be afraid and be brave. Be brave. And I remember the first time I’d stand on stage and talk about politics, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Be brave and find your friends. But gosh, I would love people to follow. We’re going to, as soon as we get sworn in on January 3, we’ll have newsletters that we’ll put out weekly. And my social media, I do myself on Facebook, Instagram, we dabble on Twitter. I don’t love Twitter, but I think it’s alright, I don’t like all the name-calling stuff.
Lips: What’s your Instagram handle?
Congresswoman Kiggans: Just Jen Kiggans. Jen Kiggans. And Facebook right now is Senator Jen Kiggans, although we’ll change it to Congresswoman Jen Kiggans on January 3. And then there’s a lot of my colleagues as well. There’s the Republican women that are in Congress now and the Senators. I like social media because it’s my voice. It’s not the media’s voice. I would encourage people to follow me on social media and my colleagues and let me know how I can be helpful. And we’ll be up in DC. We’re excited to get there in January. Come visit, keep in touch. And if there’s anything I can do to answer questions about running for office or campaigning or anything in government, please reach out.
Lips: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. We’ll definitely be watching you as you take office in January, and we look forward to following you in Congress. So, thank you so much.
Congresswoman Kiggans: Thank you. Thanks for having me today. I appreciate it.