By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, September 18, Sixth District Congressional Candidate Mark Lester (D) charged that his opponent, Gary Palmer (R), has promised to defund the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Lester said that in the wake of the Ray Rice incident he supports strengthening the Act, not weakening it.
Lester told the gathered Alabama media at his campaign headquarters, “Now is not the time for our country to abandon women.” Lester handed out copies of a March 2014 Eagle Forum PAC candidate’s survey in which Palmer allegedly pledged to vote to defund VAWA. Lester said, “Let’s be clear—to defund the Act is to destroy it. Gary Palmer’s callous disregard for the well-being of women is not just puzzling, it’s downright dangerous.”
Lester said in a statement that VAWA, “Is a great example of the positive changes that smart legislation can bring about. Yet we can do more. As a former United States Attorney, I saw how successful law enforcement can be when there is cooperation with local authorities. We need to increase, not cut support for community partnerships between federal and local law enforcement, legal aid societies, law school clinics, and women’s organizations so as to better combat violence against women. We need to expand the Act to insure that it adequately addresses crimes against women on college campuses. One out of five women are sexually assaulted in college. We need to improve schools’ response time to sexual assault. Most importantly we need to allow federal courts to hear cases of sexual assault and intimate partner violence when such actions cross state lines. Too many times women are stalked across state lines or husbands force their wives to move away from support systems to other states. A law enforcement remedy must be provided for these crimes.”
In a statement to the media, Lester said that VAWA has contributed to a 64 percent decrease in intimate partner violence against women since its passage and has helped foster a 35 percent decrease in the rate of intimate partner homicides of females during that same period. Lester said that VAWA has provided women with a valuable support system through its creation of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which has received more than 3 million calls since its creation.
The question in the 95 question Eagle Forum survey that Palmer reportedly marked “Yes” to reads, “Will you vote to defund the Violence Against Women Act, widely known as “feminist pork”?” The page in question has a signed G. Palmer signature at the bottom.
Mark Lester is a history professor at Birmingham Southern College. The Alabama Democratic Executive Committee selected Lester after their previous nominee Avery Vise unexpectedly dropped out of the race.
According to his website, Dr. Lester is a lifelong Democrat, who was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. He and his family have lived in Homewood for the past 23 years. He attended Rhodes College, received a master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia. In 1991 Lester earned a Ph.D. in Modern British Economic History from the University of Oxford. He joined the faculty of Birmingham-Southern College in 1991 where he has received the “Outstanding Professor Award” given by students. He has also taught a course on First Amendment law as an adjunct professor at University of Alabama School of Law.
Mark Lester has been married for 36 years to Jeanne Jackson, who currently serves as President and CEO of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. She is past President of the League of Women Voters of Arkansas. Jeanne and Mark have two married sons. They are members at the Cathedral Church of the Advent (Episcopal).
After finishing law school, Mark Lester was appointed Assistant United States Attorney where he prosecuted drug dealers and white collar criminals. He later formed a small law firm, specializing in commercial litigation. Lester co-founded an organization to provide legal assistance for the poor. For his efforts, he was named his county’s “Lawyer of the Year.”
The seat is currently held by Republican Representative Spencer Bachus from Vestavia who is retiring after 11 terms in the Congress. Congressman Bachus was an Alabama State Senator before defeating Congressman Ben Erdreich in 1992.
The Republican nominee, Gary Palmer grew up the son of a small logger in Hackleburgh where his mom still lives. Palmer attended the University of Alabama where he got a degree in Operations management. Palmer went on to found the Alabama Policy Institute, where he was President for 24 years.
The General Election will be on Tuesday, November 4.