Home / Champion-women / Article




March 15 2019

Rep. Ann Wagner

by Charlotte Hays

When President Trump hit on her favorite topic in his State of the Union address, Rep. Ann Wagner could not contain herself. The 56-year-old Republican let out a whoop. "Yes!" shouted the lawmaker from Missouri's Second District.

What set off the Congresswoman? The President had just mentioned paid family leave, one of Rep. Wagner’s top priorities.  

"Coming up with a conservative approach to paid family leave is something that I have always worked towards, hoped for, dreamt of, and here we are," Wagner said in an interview with IWF.

Wagner has teamed up with Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) to propose a family leave plan that is tied to the Social Security Administration. It is the outgrowth of an innovative, budget-neutral approach developed by IWF's Kirstin Shapiro. New parents would be allowed to finance time off by drawing on Social Security benefits early, and then those costs would be offset as they would become eligible for Social Security retirement later, have slightly reduced monthly retirement pays, or could pay the system back through additional taxes. Ivanka Trump, who has made support for paid leave her signature issue, has applauded efforts to further develop this idea, and Senators Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) and Mike Lee (R., Utah) are also supportive of this approach.

"Coming up with a conservative approach to paid family leave is something that I have always worked towards, hoped for, dreamt of, and here we are," Wagner said in an interview with IWF.

"Remember," says Wagner, "Social Security was founded in 1935. We are looking for a 21st century approach to it.  And Social Security is our own money.  Each one of us pays into this program. It’s ours. So [taking some benefits early for family leave] makes sense to help people when they need it most.  Remember, taking this new benefit would be completely voluntary." 

But won't this stress an already-stressed Social Security trust fund?

"This plan does not affect the future solvency of the Social Security trust fund.  It does not affect projected benefits for retirees – now or in the future," Wagner says, adding, "We have worked very hard over the last year with the Social Security Administration and the chief actuary who has given us, in writing, a score that says[the plan] has no impact [on anyone's current or future benefits] and does not at all speed up the date of insolvency of the Trust Fund or [affect] anyone else’s Social Security." 

"We are the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t offer access to paid maternity leave," Wagner says. "And, you know, I’m a mother of three.  I’m a 'glam-ma.'  And I’ve employed countless new moms and dads and having a baby is a time of great joy.  But it’s also a time of anxiety.  And children will change their parents’ lives forever.  And I think for the better.  But there are serious challenges and costs.  So, along with everything else you’re trying to juggle, it's an expense.  And to me the last thing that new moms and dads should have to worry about is whether they’re going to lose their job or miss a paycheck when they go to do one of the most incredible things in their lives, which is to start a family."

"We all want to be pro-family," Wagner says. "We all want to encourage those who wish to start a family.  We want women also, in particular, to return to the workforce. And we have study after study that shows that if we allow moms, adoptive or birth moms, to have that leave--whatever time they want – four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks, twelve weeks – with their newborn infant and they are not worried about a paycheck, or not worrying about losing their job, that they are more likely to return to the work environment.  So, I think it’s not only pro-family, pro-parent, pro-child, but I think it’s pro-business also."

This desire to help families while encouraging work and independence is at Wagner's core.  She was born in St. Louis. Her parents owned and operated two carpet stores-- Carpetime and the Last Yard--where young Ann Trousdale often helped. "What I really learned from him, from working alongside my father," Wagner recalls, "was the value of a dollar, a very strong Midwestern work ethic.  I learned how to treat customers, retail customers.  How to treat people.  How to communicate with them.  How to interact.  How to sell.  I was paid on a commission.  So my job was to sell carpet.  And right now my job is to represent and sell legislation and policy and ideas that are good for our community and for Missouri’s Second Congressional District."

"I was gonna be an opera star.  I was gonna light up Broadway," she says. "but I was also the oldest daughter of a small business owner. And he said to me then, 'So, if you want to sing your way through college, that’s super.  But you’re getting a business degree.'”

She also absorbed Republican values. "My father had one thing that always got under his skin, and he would pound a countertop or a desk or a table, whatever it was, and say that all he wanted was for government to get out of his way and off his back so he could provide the goods and services to his community and take care of his employees and provide for his family.  So, he was in favor of deregulation and pro-regulatory reform before it was cool.  And I learned how overly burdensome regulations could really stifle a small family-owned business like my parents' carpet store."

Ann Trousdale graduated from Cor Jesu Academy, a private Catholic girls' preparatory school in St. Louis and then went off to the University of Missouri-Columbia--Mizzou. She was a vocalist who sang and performed in high school theatrical productions. "I was gonna be an opera star.  I was gonna light up Broadway," she says. "I went to college on a Vocal Music Performance Scholarship, but I was also the oldest daughter of a small business owner. And he was insistent, my dad was, that I be able to be independent and productive and be able to take care of myself.  No matter what.  And he said to me then, 'So, if you want to sing your way through college, that’s super.  But you’re getting a business degree.'” She graduated from Mizzou in 1984 with a business degree. Still interested in music, she sang for a while with a group of women called the Joy Singers and served for ten years as cantor for the noon Mass at her church.   

In addition to acquiring a set of values for life, the future congresswoman also met her husband while both were working for her father. A newspaper article wryly noted that Ray Wagner was "literally cutting a rug" the first time they saw each other when they were both teenagers. They were eventually married in 1987. At first, Ray was the family's politician, working for then-Governor John Ashcroft, ultimately as a Cabinet Secretary, while Ann struck out for the private sector. She held management positions at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City and Ralston Purina in St. Louis.

In 1990, bitten by the political bug, Ann, then 28, went to work for the Missouri Republican Party. "One thing led to another," she says, and she served as executive director of the Bush/Quayle campaign for Missouri in 1992. Two years later, she ran Ashcroft's U.S. Senate race, and two years after that she worked in Senator Bob Dole's presidential campaign in the state of Missouri. "I had kind of an epiphany, a fork in the road," she recalls. It was a two-fold epiphany, occurring during the presidential caucuses: She realized she loved the energy and passion of politics; but she also saw "good strong conservatives" who didn't know how to win.

"I went home that day and said to my husband, 'Okay, we're either going to have our fourth child or I am going to run for Lafayette Township Committeewoman, eventually chair the Missouri Republican Party, and we're going to start winning elections.'" He presented her with the check for the filing fee.

Winning is everything in politics. Ann Wagner believed she knew how to win. "I went home that day and said to my husband, 'Okay, we're either going to have our fourth child or I am going to run for Lafayette Township Committeewoman, eventually chair the Missouri Republican Party, and we're going to start winning elections.'" He presented her with the check for the filing fee. "And that’s how it all began.  My husband Ray and I are a team!" she says.  "We work together, hand in hand, in raising our family and in our professional lives. To say that my husband is supportive is an understatement.  He is the one who pushes me along and says you can do it.  And is there with me through all the ups and downs and ins and outs for 32 years of marriage.  But then I’ve known him since I was 13 years old."

Ann Wagner was elected and served as the Lafayette Township Committeewoman for nine years. "It was pretty clear in the political world in those early days that she had a talent for it," Ray Wagner, now an executive of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, once told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "The student quickly became the teacher." She served as chairman of the Missouri Republican Party for six years, the first woman to land that job, and co-chair of the National Republican Party for four years. An important fundraiser and supporter of George W. Bush, Wagner was named U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg in 2005 and served in that post until 2009. Upon returning to Missouri, she chaired Senator Roy Blunt's 2010 race, which he won by a handsome margin. A rare loss came that year when she lost a race to become RNC chair, conceding after six hard-fought rounds to Reince Priebus.

With impressive national endorsements, Wagner resumed her winning streak in 2012 when she was elected to represent Missouri's second district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Wagner won by 23 points. She has run unopposed twice and beat back a Democratic challenger last year. In addition to working with Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York's twenty-first district and others to elect more Republican women to Congress, Wagner has another new project: reviving and revitalizing the Suburban Caucus, founded by former Congressman and then Senator until 2017 Mark Kirk of Illinois. Wagner realizes that conservative ideas may need to be presented in a fresh way to suburban voters.

"I’m going to focus on some of the suburban issues that are really important to our communities, including paid parental leave, affordable childcare, and better access to career and technical education.  And I am going to make sure that we build a forward-thinking platform that prioritizes household issues, empowers American families, and strengthens our communities.” she says.

Rep. Wagner met with Ivanka Trump to discuss--what else?--paid family leave. Trump mentioned--approvingly--the Congresswoman's whoop during the State of the Union. Wagner says that she "will continue to stand up and shout whenever it comes to an issue like paid family leave.'"

Meanwhile, just a few hours before she spoke to IWF, Rep. Wagner had met with Ivanka Trump to discuss--what else?--paid family leave. Trump mentioned--approvingly--the Congresswoman's whoop during the State of the Union. "I said, 'I've been a supporter of paid family leave for years and years. So that was my 'yes,' and I will continue to stand up and shout whenever it comes to an issue like paid family leave.'"

Republicans who want more strong conservative women representing their ideals are the ones who should be whooping whenever Rep. Wagner takes the stage. 





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
Follow us