Women's voices, women's votes

TV commercials, debates, rallies and campaign speeches are among the ways to view the presidential candidates' positions and what's important to women in this year's election. Another way is speaking to female legislators to get their perspective on issues of concern to women. I was fortunate to interview a diverse group of women legislators from Maryland and the Maryland Women's Caucus on the issues that pertain to women.

Maryland women lawmakers represent the diversity of our country with members from all walks of life, ethnicities, races and sexual orientations, including African-Americans, Hispanics, whites, Asian-Americans/Pacific Islanders, Indian-Americans, Caribbean-Americans and openly gay members.

Yvette Lewis, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, believes that women's economic survival is at stake in this election — in issues ranging from the money women earn, tax rates on the 1 percent and threats to repeal the Affordable Care Act, to cuts to teachers' salaries and the provision of Pell grants to college students.

Pell grants help to provide the financial means for many students to attend college. Contrary to Mitt Romney's recent statement urging students to borrow money from their families for college, many parents are not financially able to provide such funds. Cutting Pell grants would make college an unaffordable luxury for many families.

Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, representing Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, says that "as a mother, wife and woman," affordable health care gives her peace of mind. Baltimore Del. Mary Washington says single head-of-household women in her district can go to work knowing health care will be covered.

Mr. Romney, the Republican nominee, vows to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) as his first act, if elected. Repeal would mean insurance companies could deny coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, deny coverage for 50 million uninsured Americans, and prevent adult children from staying on their parents' insurance until age 26.

Jamaica-native Baltimore County Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam is the first Caribbean-born person elected to the Maryland General Assembly. A registered nurse, she states that the Affordable Care Act, with its removal of pre-existing conditions and coverage for mammogram screening — along with President Barack Obama's pro-choice stance in protecting a woman's reproductive rights in the face of GOP opposition — are among the things that make her most proud of the Obama administration. The addition of Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor also ranks high on her list of accomplishments for women by President Obama.

Most of the Maryland Women's Caucus members interviewed agreed that President Obama's decision to make the Lilly Ledbetter equal pay for women act his first bill signed speaks volumes about this president and his concerns for women's rights.

Openly gay Del. Maggie McIntosh, who for 20 years has represented the 43rd District in Baltimore, says President Obama kept us from the brink of depression, for which women should be thankful. The September jobs report shows we are on the right track, with unemployment dropping to its lowest rate since 2009. Delegate McIntosh says that for her, on a personal level, President Obama is the first president to say that her relationship is equal to those of heterosexuals.

Del. Susan C. Lee, an Asian-American, says many Asian-American women are small business owners, so it is important to her that the Obama administration addressed the need for health care for their employees, as well as elder care issues such as Medicare. Delegate Lee says the Obama administration recognizes the Asian-American community as an integral part of this country and has made an effort to be inclusive. Previously, she says, Asian-Americans were not on the radar screen in national politics.

Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee member Almina Khorakiwala and state Del. Aruna Miller are both of Indian descent. They look to the future and see that more women are needed in elected office, particularly at the federal level.

Finally, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fears that Mitt Romney, as president, would take us back to unequal wages for working women and unequal health care for women. She sums it up this way: "So much is at stake, and I hope women realize it. We're not going back."

Debbie Hines, an attorney and Baltimore native, lives in Washington, D.C. Her email is dkhines@aol.com.

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