Denver-based communications guru Debbie Brown founded the Colorado Women’s Alliance in part because she didn’t think Republicans were doing a good job talking to women.
Right now, Brown is engaged in another novel form of talking to women (and men) about energy. Let’s call it show and tell: Brown invites influential Coloradans to tour a fracking site to meet with environmental engineers in the field and learn more about energy production through her consulting role with Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development.
“It is like NASA but underground,” says Brown. “It’s very technical and very precise. I like bringing skeptical people, because I want them to have all their questions answered by the experts on-site."
"There was only one message for women out there,” Brown recalls, “and I believed there was a market opportunity to broaden the message to women, particularly along the lines of economic freedom.”
“That’s what’s the most impressive,” Brown says. “Engineers are not just sloshing stuff around down there. I tried measuring for a couple tours to see where our visitors fell on the spectrum of skepticism, or maybe even disdain before the site visit. And then I measured where they fell after seeing it in person. Engineers answer questions about process, regulations and science. And it’s pretty incredible. I wish I could take a million people out on a site tour because they see how scientific it is.”
The Colorado Women’s Alliance was also in part about messaging.
“There was only one message for women out there,” Brown recalls, “and I believed there was a market opportunity to broaden the message to women, particularly along the lines of economic freedom.”
Brown laid the foundation for the Colorado Women’s Alliance, a research, education, and advocacy organization. It endorses candidates, weighs in on issues, and conducts training sessions for women, who learn such valuable political skills as how to raise money and frame issues for the media. Colorado Women’s Alliance’s strategy included focusing on economic issues rather than reproductive issues. Although President Obama won the state in 2012, the gender gap was reversed in Colorado that year, with GOP candidate Mitt Romney getting slightly more women’s votes than the votes of men (according to exit polls that Democrats have challenged). Colorado Women’s Alliance was considered a factor.
“Unaffiliated women, in particular, are not monolithic voters,” Brown tells IWF. “They can be liberal or libertarian on social issues, and then present more economically moderate or economically conservative. So, Republicans don’t fit the perfect basket – neither do Democrats. Similar to IWF, I like to make the economic argument, that economic freedom benefits women in a very large way.”
“I no longer lead Colorado Women’s Alliance, but I’m passionate about talking about economic freedom.
“When I have economic freedom, I have the ability to grow my business, support myself and my children as a single mom. I have the freedom to care for my parents. I have the freedom to make decisions for myself. And to me that’s appealing.”
"My parents grew up in the rural Midwest,” she continues. “My mom actually completed college before she had an indoor bathroom in her home. But education was a priority for my parents and it changed the trajectory of their lives and the lives of my brother and me.”
A veteran of numerous political and issue campaigns, as adviser, manager, and strategist, Brown has always been a conservative. There was no epiphany. Conservatism is in her roots.
“My parents grew up in the rural Midwest,” she continues. “My mom actually completed college before she had an indoor bathroom in her home. But education was a priority for my parents and it changed the trajectory of their lives and the lives of my brother and me.”
Debbie’s mother taught high school science. Her father worked for the telephone company. Their dream was to move to Arizona and have enough land to raise some animals. “We didn’t have a large farm, we just had two acres, but raising animals is really like a first business. I had to track all my expenses. I had to track my income. I had to do the math and see if it was a good use of the nine months or so that it took to raise the lamb, show the lamb at the fairs and then ultimately sell the lamb. We had sheep and goats and some chickens. We thought of it as a pretend mini-farm, yet we weren’t farmers at all. But we had enough land to have a few pets that happened to be livestock. And our livestock had babies every spring and we really enjoyed it and I think for my parents having their two kids in 4-H was really fulfilling."
Brown graduated from Northern Arizona University’s W. A. Franke College of Business and came to Colorado shortly after college, with no job but ready to work. “When you’re scrappy and need money, you figure out a way. So, I found a job very quickly and did fine,” the business and marketing major recalls.
Brown invites influential Coloradans to tour a fracking site to meet with environmental engineers in the field and learn more about energy production through her consulting role with Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development. “It is like NASA but underground,” says Brown. “It’s very technical and very precise. I like bringing skeptical people, because I want them to have all their questions answered by the experts on-site.”
Brown launched her consulting firm 25 years ago, Amplify Strategies. “I know that because my daughter just turned 25 and I started it when she was born,” Brown says. Brown returned from maternity leave and found a lot of changes. “I was no longer reporting to the CEO. I no longer had a spacious office. I no longer had flex time. And so, I show up, and now here’s the new reality, and my first thought was, ‘Well, they certainly aren’t trying to keep me.’ So, I ended up putting in my notice and decided to start my own business. I ended up having three children pretty quickly while I was growing my business. The first 12 years of my business I focused on providing boutique marketing services for financial institutions and kept my public policy interests as a hobby. My business partner and I were on the same page about balancing work and family during this time.” After 12 years, Brown pivoted to public affairs and political consulting, also keeping some corporate clients.
Brown also works as the Director for the National Women’s Coalition for Job Creators Network, which is nonpartisan and includes as founders such entrepreneurs as The Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus, who see many government policies as curtailing the economic freedom that made this country prosperous. She was affiliated with the organization for many years and now assists in recruiting other women business owners across the county so they can weigh in on federal economic issues that affect their ability to start and grow their businesses.
Looking to the future, Brown is interested in contributing to the economic freedom of women in other countries. This summer, she volunteered her time with The Institute for Economic Empowerment travelled to Dallas to be a business mentor to women from Rwanda and Afghanistan who are launching and growing their businesses. Besides the basics of marketing and financial statements, Debbie was inspired by the resiliency, tenacity and joy of these women who were launching diverse businesses in areas of security, fashion, entertainment and childcare.
What advice would Brown give other working mothers? She says it’s important to be “comfortable with being imperfect.” “If I start feeling guilty that I wasn’t home every night preparing this wonderful meal for my son, I remember that there are blessings in imperfection and that kids learn how to be very resilient and independent. I don’t have a lot of mom guilt, maybe some, like probably anybody does. But I also think there’s tremendous blessing in all the craziness.”
Debbie serves her community as a Board member for the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce and past board member for Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame and Cherry Creek Academy, an award-winning public charter school. Debbie has received numerous honors, including recognition as a “Who’s Who in Energy” by the Denver Business Journal and “25 Most Powerful Women” in Colorado by the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce.
What advice would Brown give other working mothers? She says it’s important to be “comfortable with being imperfect.” “When my son was in high school, I was a single mom and worked many late nights. One night I was working late,” she remembers, “and my son would send me texts. They’d say, “Mom, I’m hungry. There’s no food.’ Of course, there was food, but it wasn’t made into an actual meal. It was ingredients. And I thought ‘Oh, shoot I really should be feeding my kid. That’s one of my responsibilities.’ We started ordering Home Chef, which comes with a recipe card and ingredients, and there were times when I’d come home late, and my son would be cooking. And he’d say, ‘Hey mom, you just sit there and talk to me. I’m going to cook.’ I have such great memories of that. And it turns out, he’s in college now, but he’s a tremendous cook. If I start feeling guilty that I wasn’t home every night preparing this wonderful meal for him, I remember that there are blessings in imperfection and that kids learn how to be very resilient and independent. And that’s a good thing. So, I don’t have a lot of mom guilt, maybe some, like probably anybody does. But I also think there’s tremendous blessing in all the craziness.”
For somebody who believes in accepting imperfection, Brown sounds like she has an almost perfect professional life. “I’m able to pick and choose clients that I like and have a lot of freedom and flexibility. And to me, it sort of is the American dream.”