Women on the Chopping Block | A Speech on Abortion

Below is the speech Sally Donlon (The president of the Louisiana Federation of Democratic Women) gave at the Governors mansion on Wednesday May 22nd.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion and the Second AnnualLouisiana Women in Blue Day, an event organized by the Louisiana Federation of Democratic Women.We are all guests this year of Governor John Bel Edwards and his gracious First Lady, Donna, who have opened their lovely home to us. Governor and Mrs. Edwards, we sincerely thank you!

I would also like to thank the board of the Louisiana Federation of Democratic Women: Betty Cooper, Theresa Rohloff, Kassie Ford, Peggy Sabatier, Angelina Iles, Mozella Bell, and Alicia Calvin. Especially Alicia Calvin, who chairs the Women in Blue Committee and who has worked closely with the Governor’s staff on this event. 

The Louisiana Federation of Democratic Women is 18 months old. The Federation exists to help strengthen the Democratic Party in Louisiana, to provide opportunities and support for Democratic women to participate in the political process, and — quite simply — to identify and elect more Democrats to public office. And we need to keep Democrats in office, including our sitting governor, John Bel Edwards.

Since taking office in 2016, Governor Edwards has—for the most part—prioritized programs and policies aimed at supporting the citizens of Louisiana, rather than corporations. He has expanded Medicaid, bringing health care to almost half a million working adults. He has championed equal pay for women, and a state minimum wage. He has stabilized the budget, protected critical social services, prevented Louisiana from falling off the fiscal cliff, fully funded TOPS, and FINALLY increased funding for higher education. John Bel led the bipartisan charge for criminal justice reform, and effectively eliminated the waiting list for services for people with developmental disabilities. He has also championed teachers and support staff by insisting on a long overdue pay raise—which will be those folks’ first pay raise in 10 years. Last on my incomplete litany of the Governor’s accomplishments is the record number of adoptions through his Department of Children and Family Services. 

But, as responsible members of the electorate and good Democrats, we must also confront the elephant in the room over which all other social justice issues must stumble. I speak of the imminent passage, and potential signage into law, of the so-called “heartbeat” bill that effectively ends the autonomy of women over their own bodies. We honor this opportunity to share with you some of your constituents’ concerns in this regard. I do not purport to speak for everyone in this room, but social media and the phone lines have exploded with concerns over your next actions, Governor. A debate currently rages among Democratic women, torn between wanting to support your mostly positive agenda and speaking out in the name of human rights. A great many have indicated they will assuage their consciences by leaving unchecked any Governor’s slot on the ballot, which we know will be a grave error. Many have chosen to forgo this invitation to the Mansion. Many, many women have asked me to present an alternative perspective on this issue, and with your forbearance, I will respectfully do so. I beginwith the official statement from Susannah French, president of the National Federation of Democratic Women, whom you met at this event last year:

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion and the Second AnnualLouisiana Women in Blue Day, an event organized by the Louisiana Federation of Democratic Women.We are all guests this year of Governor John Bel Edwards and his gracious First Lady, Donna, who have opened their lovely home to us. Governor and Mrs. Edwards, we sincerely thank you!

I would also like to thank the board of the Louisiana Federation of Democratic Women: Betty Cooper, Theresa Rohloff, Kassie Ford, Peggy Sabatier, Angelina Iles, Mozella Bell, and Alicia Calvin. Especially Alicia Calvin, who chairs the Women in Blue Committee and who has worked closely with the Governor’s staff on this event. 

The Louisiana Federation of Democratic Women is 18 months old. The Federation exists to help strengthen the Democratic Party in Louisiana, to provide opportunities and support for Democratic women to participate in the political process, and — quite simply — to identify and elect more Democrats to public office. And we need to keep Democrats in office, including our sitting governor, John Bel Edwards.

Since taking office in 2016, Governor Edwards has—for the most part—prioritized programs and policies aimed at supporting the citizens of Louisiana, rather than corporations. He has expanded Medicaid, bringing health care to almost half a million working adults. He has championed equal pay for women, and a state minimum wage. He has stabilized the budget, protected critical social services, prevented Louisiana from falling off the fiscal cliff, fully funded TOPS, and FINALLY increased funding for higher education. John Bel led the bipartisan charge for criminal justice reform, and effectively eliminated the waiting list for services for people with developmental disabilities. He has also championed teachers and support staff by insisting on a long overdue pay raise—which will be those folks’ first pay raise in 10 years. Last on my incomplete litany of the Governor’s accomplishments is the record number of adoptions through his Department of Children and Family Services. 

But, as responsible members of the electorate and good Democrats, we must also confront the elephant in the room over which all other social justice issues must stumble. I speak of the imminent passage, and potential signage into law, of the so-called “heartbeat” bill that effectively ends the autonomy of women over their own bodies. We honor this opportunity to share with you some of your constituents’ concerns in this regard. I do not purport to speak for everyone in this room, but social media and the phone lines have exploded with concerns over your next actions, Governor. A debate currently rages among Democratic women, torn between wanting to support your mostly positive agenda and speaking out in the name of human rights. A great many have indicated they will assuage their consciences by leaving unchecked any Governor’s slot on the ballot, which we know will be a grave error. Many have chosen to forgo this invitation to the Mansion. Many, many women have asked me to present an alternative perspective on this issue, and with your forbearance, I will respectfully do so. I beginwith the official statement from Susannah French, president of the National Federation of Democratic Women, whom you met at this event last year:[QUOTE]

It is clear that there is a conservative State-by-State war on women and our human right to have control over our own bodies. No woman wants to have an abortion. However, every woman wants to have control over her own body and her healthcare decisions. Women need affordable and safe access to birth control so that they do not have an unwanted pregnancy. Many of these states now banning abortions, have also made it harder for women to obtain affordable birth control. They are defunding Planned Parenthood Health Clinics. They have undermined the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive-coverage policy that ensured birth control would be covered with no copay by enacting laws allowing individuals and companies to refuse to provide or cover contraception. They are stopping women from having control over their reproductive healthcare.

The Republican State legislatures making these restrictive abortion laws state that their main purpose is to force the laws before the Supreme Court of the United States so that Roe v Wade can be overturned. They may just get their way. In this year of 2019, 45 years after Roe v Wade, we as women must join together to stand our ground that every person has a right to make reproduction and health decisions about their own body. We cannotlose this basic human right. Recent polls have indicated the support for Roe v Wade is at an all-time high and that more that 69% of Americans oppose overturning the decision.

 The National Federation of Democratic Women NFDW have been fighting long and hard for our reproductive healthcare rights and we call on our leaders and legislators to stand up against this assault on women. This is not a political issue; it is an issue of human rights.[END QUOTE]

 

That is our organization’s message on the national level; in Louisiana, we can get down to specifics. We are a state that, despite positive reforms in some areas, remains at the top of the list for childhood poverty, low education, deaths associated with reproductive health issues—including pregnancies and their aftermath—and a slew of other poverty-related outcomes. Despite positive movement on adoptions, Louisiana still harbors hundreds of children already in need of safe homes. Not surprisingly, the faces behind these statistics most often belong to poor women and women of color. 

But, let me unpack the issue a little bit. These “heartbeat” bills demand that women carry to term all embryos, despite the fact that the newest research indicates that at least 50% of pregnancies are spontaneously aborted—often without a woman ever knowing she was pregnant. Such is the tenuous nature of a fertilized egg—half of them will be spontaneously aborted by God or nature, whichever you believe to be calling the shots. The embryo in the sixth week of pregnancy is the size of a pomegranate seed. Many, many women have doubtlessly miscarried around this mark without ever knowing it—we simply assumed an unusually heavy period. And on this extremely tenuous proposition hangs the very autonomy, well-being, health, and dignity of every woman. In fact, the very criminalization of women.

The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg has famously said that “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, well-being and dignity. When the government makes that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a full adult human responsible for her own choices.” For more than 45 years, women in this country have been afforded the ability—within reason—to make that life-altering decision with the counsel of themselves, their families, and their clergy. 

Now all that is under threat as legislative bodies across the country—mostly dominated by white males with massive incomes and massive insurance policies—have set about with gusto to criminalize women, and to limit our economic and social stability. So far this year, four U.S. states have passed laws banning abortions when they say a fetal heartbeat can be detected; several additional states are also considering these so-called “heartbeat” bills. When passed into law, these bills render women into children, non-agents in the drama of their own and their families’ lives. It would be difficult even to make a galvanizing narrative out of the loss that seeps in slowly, in the course of years and decades, when one’s choices are non-consensually foreclosed. 

But what exactly are lawmakers defending when they legislate protections for the unborn at the moment a so-called "fetal heartbeat" can be perceived? Although tempting to picture a heart-shaped organbeating bravely inside a fetus, this is not the case.Rather, at six weeks’ gestation, an ultrasound can barely detect a little flutter in the area that mightbecome the future heart of a future fetus. It is not a heart at this point; it is not even a fetus at this point. The flutter happens because the group of cells that might become the future "pacemaker" of the heart gains the capacity to fire electrical signals. Meanwhile, as if to consciously, purposefully, and totally revoke the agency of half the human race, the authors and proponents of these bills continue to make it harder and harder for women to access quality, affordable birth control.

The human costs of these new laws can scarcely be overstated. If these lawmakers do not want to consider science, we can point them toward sociology. Laws have never stopped women from getting abortions; indeed, the abortion rate in countries that ban the procedure is about the same as it is in countries that allow it. But, by driving the practice underground, the new laws will only increase the danger to women’s health. How will this happen? 

First, some doctors will refuse to treat cancers found in pregnant women with chemotherapy or other potent medications because they will worry that thefetus will be harmed. Second, some doctors will allow ectopic pregnancies to continue until the woman’s fallopian tube explodes, resulting in deadly sepsis, because they fear that eggs in even ectopic pregnancies will be considered living beings under the law. And third, teenage girls may end their own lives. In Ohio, an eleven-year-old, who is carrying her rapist’s child, is no longer eligible for an abortion, according to the letter of the new law. Can we really, in good faith, tell this child that her life will get better?

Several states have already prosecuted women for doing drugs or drinking excessively while pregnant or for otherwise allegedly harming their fetuses. Overwhelmingly, those punished tend to be poor women and women of color. If abortion is secretive and illegal, who will be left out? Not the daughters and wives of powerful men . . . Those moral arbiters will simply ship their womenfolk off to whatever pocket of freedom exists somewhere in the world, or pay a private physician. Who will suffer the social,economic, and health repercussions? The poorest and most vulnerable women, as it has always been.

Much of this recent legislation has been written in such a way that women who seek abortions after six weeks could be prosecuted; people who miscarry—with God or nature’s intent—could be investigated for attempted second-degree murder. This feels dystopic, but it is what the doctrine of fetal personhood demands. If the fetus is a person, it is a person who possesses, as Sally Rooney put it in the London Review of Books, “a vastly expanded set of legal rights, rights available to no other class of citizen” — the right to “make free, non-consensual use of another living person’s uterus and blood supply, and cause permanent, unwanted changes to another person’s body.” In the relationship between woman and fetus, she wrote, the woman is “granted fewer rights than a corpse.”

For the women so reduced to mere chattel of the state, there is simply no getting around the phenomenal messiness of reproduction—the incredible violence of pregnancy, even in the best-case scenario; the fact that women are asked to leach their own bones and blood for it; the awesome and terrible ability of the body to create life as well as destroy it. The recent wave of legislation also depends on the ability of its proponents to ignore the actual ramifications of these laws. Who will advocate for the rights of the unborn when their mothers are incarcerated? How will the law deal with a pea-sized “citizen” contained within an undocumented woman’s body? 

Governor, we understand that the bill or bills that reach your desk will be “veto-proof,” and many have taken that as an excuse for you to act on your religious convictions. We also understand that you believe your constituents to be firmly anti-choice, which—if true—would provide some political cover. But we are here to tell you that many of us across the state—and across the country—feel differently. And many of us are outraged. Many of us do not cotton to abortion, but a great many of us support a woman’s right to autonomy in reproductive health, regardless of our personal beliefs. A great many are also uncomfortable, as Americans and Democrats, with the idea of legislating by religious conviction. As a child growing up in a Catholic state, I knew several motherless children. Faced with a choice, the Church had said, save the child. These laws designed to suppress women’s autonomy will likely yield many outcomes that will be only marginally different.

Thank you, Governor, for your willingness to hearfrom your constituents and fellow Democrats on an issue of dire importance, especially to poor women and women of color. And we implore you to consider carefully your actions in this regard. Thank you, again,for your otherwise positive leadership, and for your gracious hospitality!

 

That is our organization’s message on the national level; in Louisiana, we can get down to specifics. We are a state that, despite positive reforms in some areas, remains at the top of the list for childhood poverty, low education, deaths associated with reproductive health issues—including pregnancies and their aftermath—and a slew of other poverty-related outcomes. Despite positive movement on adoptions, Louisiana still harbors hundreds of children already in need of safe homes. Not surprisingly, the faces behind these statistics most often belong to poor women and women of color. 

But, let me unpack the issue a little bit. These “heartbeat” bills demand that women carry to term all embryos, despite the fact that the newest research indicates that at least 50% of pregnancies are spontaneously aborted—often without a woman ever knowing she was pregnant. Such is the tenuous nature of a fertilized egg—half of them will be spontaneously aborted by God or nature, whichever you believe to be calling the shots. The embryo in the sixth week of pregnancy is the size of a pomegranate seed. Many, many women have doubtlessly miscarried around this mark without ever knowing it—we simply assumed an unusually heavy period. And on this extremely tenuous proposition hangs the very autonomy, well-being, health, and dignity of every woman. In fact, the very criminalization of women.

The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg has famously said that “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, well-being and dignity. When the government makes that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a full adult human responsible for her own choices.” For more than 45 years, women in this country have been afforded the ability—within reason—to make that life-altering decision with the counsel of themselves, their families, and their clergy. 

Now all that is under threat as legislative bodies across the country—mostly dominated by white males with massive incomes and massive insurance policies—have set about with gusto to criminalize women, and to limit our economic and social stability. So far this year, four U.S. states have passed laws banning abortions when they say a fetal heartbeat can be detected; several additional states are also considering these so-called “heartbeat” bills. When passed into law, these bills render women into children, non-agents in the drama of their own and their families’ lives. It would be difficult even to make a galvanizing narrative out of the loss that seeps in slowly, in the course of years and decades, when one’s choices are non-consensually foreclosed. 

But what exactly are lawmakers defending when they legislate protections for the unborn at the moment a so-called "fetal heartbeat" can be perceived? Although tempting to picture a heart-shaped organbeating bravely inside a fetus, this is not the case.Rather, at six weeks’ gestation, an ultrasound can barely detect a little flutter in the area that mightbecome the future heart of a future fetus. It is not a heart at this point; it is not even a fetus at this point. The flutter happens because the group of cells that might become the future "pacemaker" of the heart gains the capacity to fire electrical signals. Meanwhile, as if to consciously, purposefully, and totally revoke the agency of half the human race, the authors and proponents of these bills continue to make it harder and harder for women to access quality, affordable birth control.

The human costs of these new laws can scarcely be overstated. If these lawmakers do not want to consider science, we can point them toward sociology. Laws have never stopped women from getting abortions; indeed, the abortion rate in countries that ban the procedure is about the same as it is in countries that allow it. But, by driving the practice underground, the new laws will only increase the danger to women’s health. How will this happen? 

First, some doctors will refuse to treat cancers found in pregnant women with chemotherapy or other potent medications because they will worry that thefetus will be harmed. Second, some doctors will allow ectopic pregnancies to continue until the woman’s fallopian tube explodes, resulting in deadly sepsis, because they fear that eggs in even ectopic pregnancies will be considered living beings under the law. And third, teenage girls may end their own lives. In Ohio, an eleven-year-old, who is carrying her rapist’s child, is no longer eligible for an abortion, according to the letter of the new law. Can we really, in good faith, tell this child that her life will get better?

Several states have already prosecuted women for doing drugs or drinking excessively while pregnant or for otherwise allegedly harming their fetuses. Overwhelmingly, those punished tend to be poor women and women of color. If abortion is secretive and illegal, who will be left out? Not the daughters and wives of powerful men . . . Those moral arbiters will simply ship their womenfolk off to whatever pocket of freedom exists somewhere in the world, or pay a private physician. Who will suffer the social,economic, and health repercussions? The poorest and most vulnerable women, as it has always been.

Much of this recent legislation has been written in such a way that women who seek abortions after six weeks could be prosecuted; people who miscarry—with God or nature’s intent—could be investigated for attempted second-degree murder. This feels dystopic, but it is what the doctrine of fetal personhood demands. If the fetus is a person, it is a person who possesses, as Sally Rooney put it in the London Review of Books, “a vastly expanded set of legal rights, rights available to no other class of citizen” — the right to “make free, non-consensual use of another living person’s uterus and blood supply, and cause permanent, unwanted changes to another person’s body.” In the relationship between woman and fetus, she wrote, the woman is “granted fewer rights than a corpse.”

For the women so reduced to mere chattel of the state, there is simply no getting around the phenomenal messiness of reproduction—the incredible violence of pregnancy, even in the best-case scenario; the fact that women are asked to leach their own bones and blood for it; the awesome and terrible ability of the body to create life as well as destroy it. The recent wave of legislation also depends on the ability of its proponents to ignore the actual ramifications of these laws. Who will advocate for the rights of the unborn when their mothers are incarcerated? How will the law deal with a pea-sized “citizen” contained within an undocumented woman’s body? 

Governor, we understand that the bill or bills that reach your desk will be “veto-proof,” and many have taken that as an excuse for you to act on your religious convictions. We also understand that you believe your constituents to be firmly anti-choice, which—if true—would provide some political cover. But we are here to tell you that many of us across the state—and across the country—feel differently. And many of us are outraged. Many of us do not cotton to abortion, but a great many of us support a woman’s right to autonomy in reproductive health, regardless of our personal beliefs. A great many are also uncomfortable, as Americans and Democrats, with the idea of legislating by religious conviction. As a child growing up in a Catholic state, I knew several motherless children. Faced with a choice, the Church had said, save the child. These laws designed to suppress women’s autonomy will likely yield many outcomes that will be only marginally different.

Thank you, Governor, for your willingness to hearfrom your constituents and fellow Democrats on an issue of dire importance, especially to poor women and women of color. And we implore you to consider carefully your actions in this regard. Thank you, again,for your otherwise positive leadership, and for your gracious hospitality!

Why am I against the death penalty?

In November 1990, Carl Survine was a vibrant community leader, an Attorney, volunteer mentor and one of my dearest friends in Shreveport. Carl was robbed and murdered by Anthony Brown. The details are too gruesome to recount. I wanted Anthony Brown to be punished to the highest degree of the law: the death penalty. For several years, I followed the case, went to court, harbored a deep hatred for Anthony Brown, and grief for Carl Survine.

Finally, in 1994, the District Attorney convicted Anthony Brown of second-degree murder, and he received a life sentence. Frankly, I was relieved that the case had been resolved. I think many families of victims who hang on to the anger and pain are worse off than the families who can reconcile that life in prison is a lifetime of punishment.

In 1994, I also had the opportunity to meet Sister Helen Prejean and read her book Dead Man Walking. Sisten Helen taught me that both victims and killers have humanity. I found a sense of peace after Carl’s death and began to understand the trials and tribulations of our justice system.

For the last 25 years, I have known many of the attorneys and mitigation experts who have defended the most dangerous criminals who have done heinous acts of violence.

One of those people was a remarkable woman, Scharlette Holdman who created mitigation research to understand the background, motivations, and life experience of people who committed horrible crimes. 

I was fortunate to spend time with Scharlette — and many other death penalty lawyers and mitigation experts — who gathered in the summer of 2017 to be with Scharlette before losing her battle with cancer.

The conversation centered around torture. It is always about torture, or rape, or murder, or crimes too bizarre to reconcile with this group of loving, caring, and compassionate people whose life work was to defend the worst of the worst.

Whether the crimes stem from passion, fear, anger, ideology, or just an accident, these experts were drawn to the flame. What is their flame? The flame may be different for each one — the challenge, the injustice, the work of ending the death penalty — one defendant at a time.

On a sunny day in Florida at the beach, lives and history intersect to focus on joy and love and pain and the search for justice.

Each person brought a longing for justice to the work.

The work.

We were brought together out of love for a woman. We each saw this woman differently and the same; as a mother, as a survivor, as a champion, as a leader, as a creator, as a storyteller, as an advocate, as a mentor and...

We projected our needs onto her. Our need to be there, with her, for her, but mostly for ourselves.

We needed to know that we were there — part of her orbit, her legacy and her lifetime of work.

It always comes back to the work.

People who are committed to the work.   People who learned the work from her and with her and through her…

People who sacrificed for the work. People who put themselves and their families at risk for the work.

Often, family, partners, and children came second to the work.

The work of justice.

On that summer week in June 2017, these advocates came together to celebrate and rejoice and hold near Scharlette Holdman.

Scharlette who crusaded for justice. Scharlette who made monsters into men. Scharlette who transformed killers into frail and scared children and young men. Scharlette who convinced people that deranged killers were more than the impact of a single event. Scharlette who worked a lifetime to abolish state-sponsored killing did not hold back her frustrations and anger over injustice.

Scharlette did not make excuses, nor did she make promises.

Scharlette worked hard and as she faced the end of her 70 years she had lessons and wisdom and love to share.

She also had stories of murder, child abuse, torture, and terrorism and the people who are capable of great evil at any given moment.

Even telling the horrific life story of a young woman: her years as a victim of rape and abuse at the hands of her father, the many men he brought to rape and demean her, and the crime she ultimately committed that brought her to death row. Scharlette still saw her humanity.

These people are drawn to understanding the life stories of killers and criminals, not to excuse their acts, but to reveal what has happened in someone's life to predict, explain, or give context to the crime.

Scharlette invented mitigation research as a legitimate field of inquiry in criminal justice. Her efforts over the last nearly 50 years have laid the foundation for anthropologists, sociologists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and even lawyers, to be interested in what drives people that kill. 

How do you explain killers? Can you give a historical family or community context that enlightens their behavior? Should that context matter in assessing justice? Do horrific individual acts justify the state to kill people who are criminals?

The drive to abolish the death penalty, and to limit the number of people who are killed by the state animated this group. That is their work. Their work is to abolish the death penalty.

In 2019, many in Louisiana are increasingly concerned about how the death penalty is determined In Louisiana. With 77 people on death row in Louisiana and with 11 people exonerated and freed from Louisiana’s death row, there is reason to believe that the most appropriate course of action is to end the death penalty.

Since the state could not get the correct drugs for executions, Louisiana has not executed anyone since 2009.

Ten years later, 2019 is the year to end the death penalty in Louisiana. But Attorney General Jeff Landry wants to kill people faster, even if they might be innocent.

I was saddened by the death penalty circus put on by Attorney General Jeff Landry on March 12, 2019.

Understanding the pain of families who have lost a loved one to violence was the rationale for a hearing at the Louisiana State Capitol.

Orchestrated by Attorney General Jeff Landry, Rep. Sherman Mack turned the Administration of Criminal Justice Committee into a tragic showcase for the pain of families to seek vengeance for lost loved ones.

The frustration and anger of families was inflamed by Attorney General Landry who wanted to grandstand against the Governor and talk about speeding up the executions of men on Death Row at Angola.

Attorney General Landry demonstrated a blood lust, a need for revenge, and wanted to return to hangings and firing squads to hurry and kill people.

Sitting in the committee room was an exasperating experience, to hear Landry pander and exploit the pain of families. The Committee was not interested in hearing from the clergy, lawyers, family members of victims and from people exonerated after serving on death row.

Rather than taking advantage of families who are forced to relive the loss of loved ones, we need to help families deal with their grief.

I think that Louisiana should abolish the death penalty in 2019.

We should abolish the death penalty because prosecuting the death penalty is too expensive and legal oversight and appeals don't happen overnight. The state of Louisiana has spent over $150 million trying cases and funding legal procedures over the last ten years and has only executed one person.

We should abolish the death penalty because too many people on death row have been exonerated.

We should abolish the death penalty because the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder.

We should abolish the death penalty because it does not bring solace to families of victims.

We should abolish the death penalty because it is against our Judeo-Christian faith traditions.

We proclaim to be the most pro-life state, and we need to prove it and abolish the death penalty.

I have been fortunate to know many of the people who work to protect the constitution and the rights of the accused.

In the 2019 Legislative Session, a bill to abolish the death penalty will be introduced. I ask you to stop for a minute and consider your faith, your values, and your best interests. Support the legislation to abolish the death penalty.

For more information on this issue go to Promise of Justice Initiative.

Written by Melissa S. Flournoy, PhD

Louisiana Progress Action

Board Member

Time for a change in leadership

The speaker of the House, Rep. Taylor Barras of New Iberia, is by all accounts a nice man, a family man, a Christian and a Republican. But he is not a leader and not a man of his word.

In politics, all you have is your reputation. After the recent train wreck of a special legislative session, Barras no longer has the reputation of a man who keeps his word and has the ability to get things done. It's simple: The speaker of the House needs to resign.

Judging from his behavior during the special session, Barras appears to be tired of the job anyway. Perhaps he is not suited to the level of acrimony and political gamesmanship inflicted on leaders at the State Capitol. He may just be too nice to know how to stick to a deal when faced with animosity from his own party.

After the special session adjourned Monday with no solutions for the upcoming "fiscal cliff," the blame should and does land at the feet of the speaker of the House. Barras failed to negotiate the challenges of the Republican caucus, and failed to deliver on his pledges to the governor. The animosity and tension within the House of Representatives was so thick, you could “cut it with a knife.” The bad feelings all around the Capitol make it impossible to make progress.

Unfortunately, state politics and the air in the State Capitol are almost as divisive and negative as national politics. State Rep. Walt Leger, of New Orleans, said, “We have lost our way.” The ability to focus on problems and work together to move the state forward requires communication, trust and leadership. We have devolved into stalemate and blame, insuring no progress for Louisiana will be made unless something changes.

If Barras is as honorable of a man as he'd like Louisiana to believe, then he'll recognize change must start with his resignation. Louisiana needs to have a hard reset at the State Capitol; and with the Democratic caucus getting a new leader, change is possible for both parties.

Like the legislature, the governor could use some change, too. The governor needs to take a hard look at his legislative strategy and continue to develop new ways to work with the Legislature and be clear in his leadership and expectations. The Black Caucus has to be included in decision-making from the beginning, not only when their votes are needed to move legislation out of the House. We need to rebuild trust and communication. We need respect and communication.

There are leaders in the legislature who want to focus on solving problems across partisan lines. For the sake of Louisiana, it's time to let those bipartisan lawmakers lead. The state of Louisiana can't afford anymore partisan gridlock. Louisiana needs leadership from elected officials, not petty political gamesmanship.

Melissa S. Flournoy, Ph.D.

Reflections on the Anniversary of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

It’s time to talk about one of Louisiana’s bottom-ranking statistics: the pay disparity between men and women. You may already know that, on average in the US, women make 79% of what men make, but in Louisiana it’s much worse than that. In 2014, the median earnings for women in Louisiana were $31,586, compared to men in Louisiana, who took home $48,382. That means that here, women actually earn 65% of what men make, putting us 51st out of all states plus the District of Columbia.

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