Voters..."hear us roar!"

Nov 5, 2018

Alabama voters head to the polls in less than three weeks. They’ll pick a governor, members of the cabinet, and a lot of state house and senate seats. One thing that may stick out on the ballot is that many of the candidates are women. Glamour Magazine published an article on the eighteen African-American Alabama women running in the midterms. APR’s Pat Duggins reports on the campaigns of another twenty three female candidates in Alabama which are being fueled by a statewide initiative…

The Labor Day picnic at the headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Birmingham included an inflatable water slide for the kids, hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, and another holiday staple…

Politics.

Candidates for public office including circuit judge and county sheriff are pressing the flesh. That includes Jenn Gray…

“I’m just me, that’s all I know how to be," says the candidate for Alabama State House District forty five. “So, I just go out and I say what I’m thinking about and what’s on my mind.”

Gray is running against Republican Dickie Drake. APR made two calls to Drake’s office for an interview. Those calls went unanswered. As for Jenn Gray, she’s a Democrat and a woman running in a state that votes mostly Republican and more often than not for male candidates. Gray agrees with some counts that put the legislature at eight five percent men.

“Absolutely…yeah,” Gray concedes. And that’s why she’s running. And her message to the guys currently holding office in Montgomery is that Alabama needs more of a woman’s perspective…

“I know you think you’re doing things the right way," says Gray, "But that’s because you don’t know about these other things. You would change your minds if you knew people thought about it differently.”

For example. Gray championed the idea of using campaign funding to pay for child care…

“If you’re a single parent," she says. "If you’re a woman that is responsible for that child care. I can’t leave my child in the car watching Youtube videos while I go in and talk to a mayor.”

Gray says that idea left many men in Alabama Government scratching their heads. That could be one of the reasons getting women like Gray to run for office has been tricky…

"You know you ask a man to run, and he says ‘sure! I know I’m qualified! I’m sure I am!’" says Stacie Propst. She’s with the newly formed group Emerge Alabama…

“A woman…needs a little encouragement. She already has about twenty five jobs…usually unpaid or underpaid, and now on top of that you want to layer on public service.”

A phone call was made to national group called Emerge America to set up a branch in Alabama to cultivate female progressive candidates like Jenn Gray. Propst says it wasn’t easy.

“The first phone call…they were saying ‘we’re not ready to expand into the south…the Deep South," says Propst.”

Which makes sense in red Alabama. But, then there a follow-up call …

“…and said ‘no, no…we’ve changed our minds,' recalls Propst. "We want to go full force on a fifty state strategy.”

And that phone call led to this. Jenn Gray and about a dozen other female candidates, all enlisted by Emerge Alabama, are getting a refresher course on how to run a political campaign. Instructor Kayla Sloan is using a PowerPoint presentation on things like how to get volunteers, how to conduct polls, and so on. Propst says the point is to get past the red state and blue state mentality, any focusing on the basics.

“Look at who votes. Look who doesn’t vote. Look who’s not registered. Study your communities. And, then get out there and talk to people. It’s not that complicated.”

Emerge Alabama wants to turn female voters toward more progressive candidates. There are estimates that fifty one percent of Alabama’s voters are women. One event in December of last year proved how potent that voting block can be. Stacie Propst says when Democrat Doug Jones beat Roy Moore for the U.S. Senate, a lot of the people working for the campaign and a lot of the people who voted for him were women. Propst says her goal is to keep that going…

“I have lots and lots of women friends, who say they’re Republican…but, they’re not."  And, Propst want to flip those GOP voters… “If you have five seconds with them to talk about the issues," she says. "Turns out they care about exactly the same thing that all our candidates care about. Families, health care, good jobs, good education. They want all the same things all women want.”

“Should we really say…well, Alabama’s going to turn Blue anytime soon…probably not," says Dr. Regina Wagner, an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Alabama. Her skepticism is fueled by her research which focuses on women in politics.

“So, I think you have some room to win sort of the squishy center," says Wagner. "But, there is a limit to that, because there are some people that’s a line for them they’re not going to cross. And some of them are women, so I don’t think you can win them over these women, but there are some women to can win over.”

Back at class, Heather Milam speaks up. She’s running for Secretary of State. She recalls a situation while campaigning door to door for Democrat Doug Jones’ run for the U.S. Senate, it turns out turning GOP women can get dicey. One reason was their GOP husbands

"Ten percent of the homes, the men answered the door, and wouldn't let speak to their wives," recalls Milam. "Even though we asked specifically to talk to the woman. And that shocked us, because we didn't know what to say to that."

Emerge Alabama has enlisted twenty three women who are on the ballot this year. So, once Election Day is over, what represents success to Stacie Propst? She puts it this way…

“I want every woman and every little girl to be seeing this. ‘Look at those candidates…they look like me!’ I want to run for office in the future.How do I get there? How do I plan for that?”

Back at the electrician union picnic, the hamburgers are just about done, but Jenn Gray isn’t. She continues shaking hands and making small talk with voters knowing that she’s made a bit headway already. Remember her point about using campaign dollars for child care? Earlier this year, the Alabama Ethics Commission voted to allow that. It’s not a victory at the ballot box, but a woman’s perspective did win the day on that one issue…