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Opinion | Elect women to change the conversation

Many years ago, back in the last century, I was writing editorials in Alabama supporting a program known as Children First. There was plenty of opposition.

But Children First eventually passed, and while the ultimate credit goes to the Alabama Legislature, many good women led the effort for our state to do better by its children. Former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb was the point of the spear. The late Sandra Ross Storm, at the time presiding judge at Jefferson County Family Court, did more than her part.

A group of juvenile judges came up with the idea. They saw potential, but little hope of continued funding for children’s programs.

Even so, it took five hard years, from 1995 to 2000, to pass the program, and only then because it was going to be paid for by the national tobacco settlement. Truth is, many of the men who voted for Children First, which was contingent on funding from that tobacco settlement, never believed there would be a tobacco settlement.

But there was a settlement, and a vital program to help kids was born.

It wasn’t only women who helped: John Hall, an attorney and one-time adviser to Gov. Don Siegelman, was instrumental, along with the late Jim Hayes, another Siegelman aide. Marshall County Circuit Judge Howard Hawk, a lawmaker at the time, led the fight in the Legislature.

Indeed, the battle for Children First started when former Gov. Fob James was in office. James fought the program, as did the heavily male-dominated Alabama Legislature. The Gary Palmer-led Alabama Family Alliance fought the program. Yes, the same Gary Palmer who now is a U.S. representative for Alabama’s Sixth District.

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Even as survey after survey showed that many of Alabama’s children, especially its poor children, were living marginal lives — often hungry, poorly educated, with little access to quality health care or other services — men, mostly, fought against Children First.

Children First and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (All-KIDS in Alabama) put our state on the map for at least doing something positive and progressive for the kids.

Now, the Republican (and male)-dominated Legislature tries to take money from the program each year. The national CHIP program is the target of President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans.

Children First supporters cannot rest. Ever.

Even way back then, in the mid-1990s through my leaving the newspaper in 2015, I wrote about the need for more women in the Alabama Legislature and in Congress. I still believe that, and perhaps this year is the year we’ll see a change.

Women candidates, especially Democratic Party women, are doing well in primaries across the state and nation.

In Alabama, a record number of women Democrats are running for positions, from statewide positions down to local offices. Most of these are African-American women.

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Do not sell them short.

The reason U.S. Sen. Doug Jones was successful in his December race against former Chief Justice and child molester Roy Moore was because of the turnout of women voters and, mainly, black women voters.

Not that Republican women don’t bring important issues to the table. Sue Bell Cobb is a Democrat, and recently lost her party’s nomination for governor to Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. But Judge Sandra Storm was a Republican.

Many people, especially women, don’t have much faith in Republican women like Gov. Kay Ivey or Lt. Gov. candidate Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, because they supported Moore simply because he is a Republican. Ivey admitted she believed Moore’s accusers, yet still voted for the molester.

Not even longtime GOP U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby did that.

We need more women in the state Legislature and in Congress because women help change the conversation. They help change the priorities. They help bring positive and progressive change on issues often ignored or shuffled aside by men.

Men, generally, are more concerned with asphalt, and guns, and economic development at any price.

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Women, generally, are more concerned with education, and child welfare, and health care at any price.

I’ll take the latter any day.

That’s not at absolute, of course. Some men care about nurturing issues; some women don’t. But, generally, the atmosphere in any legislative body – local, state, or national – changes with the more women who take part in the decision-making.

So, again, Alabama voters have a chance to change the conversation. Study the candidates who are running. Some women are much more qualified than the men they’re running against. Some men are much more qualified than the women they’re running against.

But when there’s a race where the qualifications are pretty much equal, vote for the woman.

Women will make the difference.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes this column ever week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected].

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Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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