By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
There is no doubt that I would not be the man I am today had it not been for the women in my life. From my mother to my wife and daughter, they have all shaped who I am. But more importantly, they have also helped shape the community we live in. I have seen in all of them a strength and wisdom that makes me proud, humble and grateful to have them in my life.
And like myself, I’m sure everyone reading this has known women like that. There is no shortage of amazing women from Alabama. From famous women, such as Helen Keller or actress Octavia Spencer, to the working mom’s and those who raise our children, we are blessed in this state to have such amazing women in our lives.
But for all that we owe to the women of Alabama, our state government has not supported women the way we should.
For example, we still have problems with discrimination in the workplace. Whether it’s equal pay for equal work or equal opportunities for job promotions, our state legislature has failed to take action to protect women in the workplace.
Another area where we have failed is on the issue of child custody and deadbeat dads. Anyone can fall on hard times, but as a father I just can’t understand how a man can miss his child support payments. We should be doing more in Montgomery to prevent deadbeat dads from financially abandoning their children and their children’s mothers.
Alabama is also one of only seven states that still allows a person convicted of first-degree rape to claim parental rights. If this is not a matter of safety for women and children then I don’t know what is!
The recent reports about the abuses at the Tutwiler prison also reinforce the impression that women and women’s safety are not priorities for the leadership in Montgomery. These women committed crimes and they should be serving time in prison for those crimes. But that does not justify what’s been going on at Tutwiler.
These examples show that women are simply not a priority for state leaders in Montgomery.
I believe part of the reason we have not made women a priority is because women are so underrepresented in our state legislature. Even though women make up more than 50 percent of the population, only 14 percent of the members of the state Senate and House of Representatives are women. In the Senate, not a single legislative committee is chaired by a woman.
The House isn’t much better: there are only six Republican women in the House, and only four of the House’s 31 committees are chaired by women (two of which are local legislative committees).
But I also believe part of the problem is that state leaders do not understand the issues that matter to women.
Too many politicians think that “women’s issues” is just code for abortion and birth control. But the women I know care about so much more.
Don’t get me wrong. Most women I have spoken with were outraged when the Republicans in the Alabama Legislature tried to pass the “Transvaginal Ultrasound” bill two years ago. Had it passed, the law would have forced any woman who had a pregnancy that ended early to undergo an invasive medical procedure against her will, even if she had a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. Fortunately, the massive outcry from the public put an end to it. But who knows if the Republicans will try to bring it back once they get through the election this year.
Aside from that issue, what most women tell me they are concerned about are the issues that impact their families: job creation, equality in the workplace and providing their children with a quality education.
These are the issues that should matter to all of us. But unfortunately we are losing jobs as fast as we can create them, our schools have been under constant attack over the past four years and we have failed to address the issues of inequality in the work place.
The leadership in Montgomery doesn’t seem to get it. But it’s like my mother taught me, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” Until there is a change in our state legislature, I wouldn’t expect anything different to come out of it.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.