In a state where one in four women are affected by domestic violence - where women can expect to earn less than men in almost every occupation, right out of college - it‘s critical for women to make their voting choices carefully.
That was the message of a panel discussion for the UL Students for the Advancement of Women Tuesday night. The event, hosted by the Palmetto Club in the Oil Center, focused on the U.S. Senate race and the track record of the candidates on issues important to women.
"We have to look at who we are electing, and how they are going to help us," says Kristin Gisleson Palmer, a former NOLA council member and current director of Women‘s Initiatives for the Mary Landrieu campaign.
In Louisiana, women earn less than men at every level of education attainment, Palmer told the crowd of female UL students. That‘s true in almost every occupation, and it starts as soon as they graduate - and gets worse, she says.
Landrieu has a long history of supporting pay equity legislation, including the Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, which she co-sponsored, Palmer says. Her opponent, Bill Cassidy, also has a history with fair pay laws, Palmer adds: He votes against them.
Louisiana is "dead last in equal pay," so it‘s an issue Louisiana women need to have on their radar, Palmer says.
On the other hand, Louisiana‘s in the top five if you‘re talking about women who die at the hands of their spouses and boyfriends, says Dr. Sara Ritchey of UL.
Domestic violence directly affects one in four women in the U.S., she says.
"If a disease affected 25 percent of women in this country, I think we would find a cure for it," Ritchey notes. "The Violence Against Women Act is the only federal attempt to find a cure."
The Act, passed initially in 2000 and reauthorized again in 2005 and 2013, began as a bipartisan effort to criminalize violence against women in a way it had not been, Ritchey explains. Before VAWA, domestic violence and acquaintance or date rape was considered a "private matter," she says.
When it was reauthorized in 2005, the act again enjoyed bipartisan support, being viewed as a kind of no-brainer issue. But that changed, Ritchey says, when reauthorization came up in 2013: "That was the first time that VAWA faced severe politicalization and bipartisan bickering."
Landrieu supported all three versions of the act. Cassidy, as a house member, voted against it in 2013, she says.
"This is legislation that is something real, that directly affects our community," Ritchey says, urging students to select candidates who "promote the health of women and promote opportunities for women."
William "Bud" Barrow, CEO of Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center, spoke to the students about the Affordable Care Act and its puzzling political history.
Although it basically is the kind of market-based reform that conservatives generally like, and indeed similar programs have enjoyed popularity among conservatives, the ACA has been demonized for political reasons, Barrow says.
The width and breadth of misinformation being distributed about it is something Barrow has never seen, he says. In reality, while it‘s not perfect, it has decreased the number of uninsured people in America, which helps doctors and hospitals; it has improved health outcomes; and it assists patients by making the billing process much more transparent.
Barrow, who serves on a national hospital board, adds that most hospital CEOs in Louisiana, while almost completely conservative, do not agree with Gov. Jindal‘s refusal to allow Louisiana to participate in the benefits of ACA.
The 27 states that accepted the expansion of Medicaid are seeing a lot more benefits from ACA than those that haven‘t, a list that includes Louisiana, Barrow says.
Melinda Mangham, a longtime educator and current Lafayette Parish School Board member, talked about the ever-increasing cost of higher education and the difficulty students have in shouldering the debt for it.
"People don‘t think the federal government has much to do with that," she says. "But it‘s a huge mistake to think that. We need someone there supporting us."
Mangham says her students, when asked to identify the greatest challenge facing our country, don‘t give an expected answer.
"They say, "Why can‘t we sit down and come up with a solution, instead of saying no, no, no. Sen. Landrieu‘s opponent has no solution for anything," she says. "I wonder if Congressman Cassidy has any idea of the impact his negative approach is having on the youth of this country."
IND Publisher Cherry Fisher May, who moderated the panel, urged the students to vote.
"This race is not over. If there‘s ever been a time when your vote matters, it‘s in this election," she says. "For us, as women, there has to be a line in the sand. Call people. Offer to give people a ride to vote. It‘s important to us as women."