Hear 'em Roar
Women's votes could swing the race in sixth district
By Alex De Grand

Maybe it is a woman's prerogative to change her mind, but it can keep the people who run political campaigns up at night.

A recent WKYT/Herald-Leader poll found the sixth district congressional race to be close, largely hinging on a bloc of undecided voters made up mostly of women. The poll reports 68 percent of the undecided voters are women; undecided voters were 8 percent of the overall poll.

"I'm surprised they're so undecided," said Penny Miller, an associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky.

Miller considers the differences to be stark between Republican incumbent Ernie Fletcher and Democratic challenger Scotty Baesler on prescription drugs, social security and Medicare - all issues she identified as important to women.

Nationally, women are inclined to vote Democratic on those issues, Miller said.

But the sixth district is complicated, she said.

"I think this is a very mixed district," Miller said, noting the district comprises not just the urban center of Lexington but the more conservative rural areas surrounding it.

Miller suggested women will also look at other issues like abortion that divide Baesler and Fletcher, but she did not predict how they will influence the outcome.

The conventional wisdom is that Fletcher is an abortion opponent while Baesler is pro-choice.

But when Baesler last represented the sixth district from 1996-98, he cast a number of votes that add nuance to his abortion views.

For example, Baesler voted in 1998 for a ban on "partial birth" abortions - just like Fletcher did earlier this year. Women's groups oppose "partial birth" abortion bans because the term has no medical meaning and could lead to undercutting the right to all types of abortion.

Also in his last stint as the sixth district's congressman, Baesler voted in favor of a bill that made it a crime for anyone to transport or accompany a minor across state lines for an abortion unless the young woman had already satisfied the requirements of her home state's parental notification and involvement laws.

Such a law applies to close family members like a grandparent or aunt or even a clergy member. Adults who help a young woman during a crisis pregnancy in violation of those provisions could be fined or face up to a year in jail.

Women's groups objected to the law, fearing it denied young women help from adults they trust, endangered their health and violated rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

At the same time, women's groups applauded Baesler's votes in favor of contraceptive coverage for federal employees, FDA approval of RU-486, international family planning, and teens' confidential access to contraceptives.

In contrast, women's groups like Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Reproductive Rights Action League found nothing to smile about in Fletcher's freshman voting record. The National Right to Life Committee considered Fletcher's votes in 1999 to be in line with their position 100 percent of the time.

For example, Fletcher voted in 1999 for the Unborn Victims of Violence Act making it a crime to cause the injury or death of a fetus by harming a pregnant woman. Critics charged the measure's real aim was to lead the way to legal recognition of a fetus as a person.

A number of women's groups have reported more to cheer from Baesler's voting record than that of Fletcher regarding health care reform. In 1998, Baesler voted against a "patient protection" bill that failed to allow individuals to sue health plans under state law for personal injury or wrongful death.

Fletcher famously voted against legislation with a provision for suing an HMO. That provision is a key objective of groups including the National Organization for Women.

But beyond medical care and reproductive rights, there are other issues women's groups follow.

For example, these groups have been strongly critical of various attempts to reform the nation's bankruptcy laws.

Too many versions of "reform" threaten to put repayment of debts like credit card obligations ahead of child support and spousal maintenance payments, these groups argue. Those changes, they contend, would be disastrous given that women - many struggling to find their economic footing following a divorce - already make up a large number of the bankruptcy cases.

In 1998, Baesler voted for a bankruptcy reform bill opposed by NOW. Similarly, Fletcher voted for bankruptcy reform over women's groups' objections.

On issues of violence against women, Baesler cosponsored the Violence Against Women Act of 1998, a comprehensive package of provisions addressing problems of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault through community-based programs providing referral, shelter, counseling, public education, victim services and law enforcement assistance.

Fletcher voted to add a "date rape" drug to the schedule of controlled substances and to provide for a national awareness campaign.

Other fish in the sea

None of this is to forget Reform Party candidate Gatewood Galbraith who does not have a comparable legislative record to study for hints as to what he might do for women's issues if elected.

The Galbraith campaign said its message of freedom and less government intrusion "should be a receptive message for men and women." Campaign manager T.J. Litafik rejected the idea Galbraith will customize his message.

"Gatewood is not a politician who goes out and sticks his finger in the wind," Litafik said. "He doesn't pander to any particular group."

Alex De Grand can be reached at 225-4889 ext. 232 or


Bad Medicine

Pharmaceutical companies screw the American public many times over, according to a public interest group's September 26 presentation on the cost of prescription drugs at the Griffith-Ballard Towers in Lexington.

First, the American tax payer often foots the bill for basic drug research, said Ron Pollack, the executive director of Families USA. The National Institutes of Health then licenses its findings to drug companies at very low cost, he said.

Rather than seeing the benefit of the publicly subsidized research, Americans often pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, Pollack said.

And when the government grants patents, the drug company exercises an effective monopoly on the product, Pollack said.

The government further compounds the problem by making it illegal for Americans to buy these same drugs at lower prices in Canada or Mexico and bring them back to this country, he added.

Pollack endorsed a proposal to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, arguing the government would bring pressure upon the drug companies to lower their prices.

Families USA is a national non-profit group that advocates affordable and accessible health care. Prior to his position with Families USA, Pollack was dean of the Antioch University School of Law. As an activist, Pollack successfully fought for federal legislation expanding food programs serving the poor. - ADG

Women in Love

In 1996, it was the "soccer mom."

This year, it's "women who like men who love their wives."

The focus on the women's vote is a mixed blessing. While it's great to see politicians paying attention to women's opinions, the rhetoric in which this attention is couched is still pretty condescending. And it still conceives of the women's vote as a monolithic bloc, which has never been true.

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of this attention is the dissection of "the kiss," Gore's embrace of wife Tipper during the Democratic National Convention. Pundits of all stripes have speculated that women responded well to the public display of affection, and give the peck partial credit for Gore's jump in the polls. Not one to miss an opportunity, last week Bush made a point of kissing Oprah on the cheek during his appearance on her show - an action that didn't go unnoticed in media reports.

Women were so moved by a kiss that they're changing their votes? We might as well go back to thinking that women shouldn't vote because their proper place is barefoot and pregnant. -KR

Clean-up Coach

Jerry Claiborne, who coached UK's football team from 1982 until he retired from the game in 1989, died September 24 of a heart attack in a Nashville hospital. He was 72 years old. Claiborne played at UK under coach Bear Bryant from 1946-49. He came to UK after serving as the head coach at Virginia Tech and Maryland.

Claiborne compiled an impressive 179-122-8 record throughout his 28-year coaching career. He was coach of the year in three different conferences and was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999. The Central Kentucky Chapter of the National Football Foundation was renamed for Claiborne that same year.

Even more impressive than his record was Claiborne's reputation. He was stubbornly old-fashioned, honest, and credited for cleaning up the UK football program, especially in the academic area. -JZ