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Monday, October 30, 2006

George Allen's Real Record of Support for Women

There used to be a joke that the classic example of chutzpah was the man who killed both his parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the court because he was an orphan. By that light, the definition of a dishonest political hack is a candidate who distorts his opponent's record while boosting himself as the true champion of women's issues when he has never voted in favor of anything that real women considered important to their interests and well being.

By any definition, George Allen and his campaign staff qualify for that label. Let’s compare the records on women's issues of the two candidates vying to represent Virginia in the U.S. Senate.

First, to make Jim Webb look bad to women, the Allen campaign went on a real dredging operation, digging through the mud to find inflammatory quotes that Jim Webb made 25 years ago about women's fitness to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. Admittedly the remarks were brash and offensive. And Webb promptly apologized for them. He didn’t try to deny them, as Allen did with his “Macaca” quotes, or try to make excuses. He simply and publicly said he was sorry and he regretted making those statements because they no longer represented his beliefs about women's fitness to serve in the military.

But what matters more than Webb’s remarks of 25 years ago, is Allen’s more recent voting record and his positions on a variety of women's issues during his time in the House of Representatives in the early 1990s to his current positions in the Senate today.

No candidate can claim the mantel of support for women’s issues if he is against a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. It’s a tragic choice and few people are in favor of abortion. But the majority of Virginians believe that this agonizing decision must be left to women and their doctors, not legislated by strangers.

But George Allen doesn't agree with the majority of Virginia's women on this. In fact, he even voted against an amendment to the 2006 Fiscal Year Budget that would have provided military women access to abortion services at military hospitals, at the women's own expense. This bill would not have made the taxpayer pick up the medical expenses for any abortion. It simply would have ensured that women who serve in our armed forces would have access to safe abortions, at their own expense, whether they are at home or overseas.

George Allen does not support reproductive rights for women. And not just a woman’s right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy. Incredibly, he voted against another amendment to a different bill that would have reduced unintended pregnancies by allocating funds for increased access to family planning services and providing funds to ensure that health insurance plans cover birth control prescriptions. In addition, this amendment would have provided funding for prevention of teenage pregnancies. Ironically, the main purpose of the amendment was to reduce the number of abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies.

But not only did Allen vote no for that piece of legislation, he also voted against allowing the Plan B, or “morning after” pill, to be sold over the counter (although voting against it in the Senate didn’t stop him from owning stock in the company that manufactures the pill).

Jim Webb, on the other hand, has stated clearly that he is in favor of reproductive freedom for women, including a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. Webb also favors stem cell research, which Allen doesn’t.

But on another important issue, one that affects countless more women than even reproductive rights, the two candidates couldn’t be further apart. George Allen,while serving in the House of Representatives, voted against the Family Medical and Leave Act, which was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993.

More than any of the so-called social wedge issues, this piece of legislation has improved women’s lives immeasurably. It has provided them with job security while also giving them the ability to care for family members in need. No longer does a woman have to choose between her job and a sick child or dying parent. Now, when a woman must face the daunting task of caring for a sick family member, she can at least focus on her task, knowing that she will have a job to return to. And even more important, she won't have to worry about losing her company provided health benefits just when she may need them the most.

Even more telling, George Allen, while he was a congressman, voted for a measure to rescind the Labor Department's ergonomics regulations, also during the Clinton Administration. That measure stripped the Labor Department of any enforcement authority to make companies provide education to workers in how to prevent repetitive stress injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, from typing, lifting, and other repetitive activities. It also prevented the federal government from enforcing regulations requiring businesses to take steps to minimize carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries in employees.

The majority of those who get repetitive stress injuries are women who work on computers typing all day or in factories. So Representative Allen was hardly a the champion of women's rights that he is now pretending to be.

Jim Webb, with his emphasis on economic fairness for the middle class, would never have voted against the Family Medical and Leave Act. He wouldn't have voted for a measure that strips basic workplace safety and health protections from employees. Nor would he have voted against a raise in the minimum wage law, as George Allen has done, while also voting to raise his own salary in the Senate ten times.

Since women comprise so much of the low-paying service sector of our economy, those votes to raise the minimum wage affect the welfare of women struggling to support their families.

And in another sorry example of how the Allen camp has distorted both candidates’ records, consider this.

While Allen’s campaign ads have taken potshots at Jim Webb’s opposition to women in the U.S. Naval Academy in 1979, it was Allen, while he was Virginia’s governor, who opposed the admission of women to Virginia Military Institute. Indeed, George Allen called the government "nannies and pests on a mission to destroy VMI." And that was in 1996, a full 16 years after Annapolis had already successfully integrated women into its program. And years after Webb, as Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Navy, had changed his mind about women’s fitness for military service and opened 18,000 assignments for women, the most career opportunities for them in Navy history.

Finally, you can tell a lot about a person by the people he hires for key spots on his staff. As the Washington Post noted, Allen has 14 women out of 50 employees in his Washington office and as campaign staff but they mostly work in lower and mid-level jobs in administrative positions that are traditionally held by women. Only two women hold top spots on Allen's staff. In contrast, the five top operatives in Jim Webb’s campaign are strong, outspoken women. No man who opposes women’s rights or who thinks that women are unfit or incompetent would trust his campaign in their hands the way Jim Webb has done.

The contrast between these two men is telling. If you put the attack ads aside and take a true measure of both men, it becomes clear that Jim Webb is more in touch with the needs of Virginia women than George Allen is. And he has far more respect for women's talents and competence. You just can't judge a person by a few brash statements he made 25 years ago while ignoring his opponent's past and current history. George Allen has a voting record from the U.S. House of Representatives, the Governor's Office, and the U.S. Senate. Unfortunately, when it comes to support for the things important to women, he can't run successfully on that record so he has to resort to attack and smear tactics. Sadly, it's par for the course with this candidate.

George Allen doesn't care about women's safety on the job. He doesn't care about their economic plight or their work-life balance. And he certainly doesn't care about their physical health or their reproductive rights. In fact, George Allen plain doesn't care about women or appeciate them. And it's time for women to reciprocate that lack of appreciation come election day.

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