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March 3, 1998

The Alabama Solution

by Marsha Whiting

The Alabama Solution is a bi-partisan non-issue-oriented group of Alabama citizens, predominantly women, who think that the time has come for women to play a leadership role in state government. Members of the Alabama Solution believe women can make a positive difference in the quality of government and in the lives of all Alabamians.

Founded in 1992, the organization has only one important goal: getting qualified women elected to public office in Alabama. The Alabama Solution is a state-wide political action committee with chapters in Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville. Recognizing the importance of early money to build winning campaigns, the Alabama Solution is focused primarily on raising money to help develop, promote and support candidates in the political process.

The Alabama Solution supports both Democratic and Republican candidates, in line with its bi-partisan status. During the 1996 Alabama elections, the Solution supported seventeen women candidates across the state, eight were Democratic, eight were Republicans, and one was an Independent. Out of the seventeen candidates, nine were elected to office, demonstrating that when women run in Alabama they can, and often do, win.

The Alabama Solution also encourages women to vote, to campaign for women candidates, and to run for political office themselves. By supporting candidates at all levels and types of public office, the organization helps women get into the political pipeline, where they will gain the experience and contacts they need to someday run for higher office.

The 1996 survey conducted by George Magazine that ranked Alabama the worst in the nation for women resulted in a real boost in membership in the Alabama Solution. As president of the Lower Alabama Chapter of the Alabama Solution, I believe that no significant changes will occur in Alabama until women participate actively in the political process and gain parity with men in politics. I am optimistic for the long run, if not the short run. Women need to level the playing field in terms of finances -- they need money to win. That's why the Alabama Solution is trying to raise as much money as we can before the 1998 state election in order to support those women who are willing to take the risk of stepping into a political arena that is not exactly user-friendly for women.

The bottom line is that women are not skilled fund-raisers. As a psychologist, I think that the Southern culture conditions women to be polite ("Never make others uncomfortable") but does not teach them to be assertive in asking for what they need. Southern women are far more at home giving dinner parties than calling friends and associates to ask for checks.

It is often the early money that seeds a campaign that determines whether a candidate will make it through the primary. Emily's List, a national democratic pro-choice political action committee, gets its name from the acronym for Early Money Is Like Yeast (Emily). In the 1996 election cycle, Emily's List raised over $19 million to support candidates elected for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

The group's leader, Ellen Malcolm, has voiced her belief that public financing of campaigns is part of the answer to campaign reform. However, while campaign money is still necessary, we should differentiate between money that enhances the electoral democratic process and special interest money that is merely a tool to promote legislation for economic gain. Organizations such as Emily's List and The Alabama Solution work to elect candidates. They do not lobby for their own special interests, or follow up their electoral successes with lobbying demands.

The two most important races of this decade for women in Alabama are democrat Natalie Davis' race for the U.S. Senate in 1996 and Ann Bedsole's 1994 race for governor. In interviews both candidates agreed that the role of women in Alabama politics is changing dramatically, and that the Alabama Solution plays a big part in creating this change. While neither of these women built their campaign around women issues, significant financial and moral support was received from the women in the Alabama Solution. A number of women donors wrote checks for a thousand dollars which constituted a radical shift in the level at which women are willing to participate in the political process.

According to Ann Bedsole, women have historically worked very hard in politics at the grassroots level. Active in local partisan clubs and in organizing campaigns for particular candidates, women have never risen to major fund-raising or decision-making roles. The Alabama Solution is intent upon changing that.

I am weary of those who say "I've given up on Alabama politics. It's hopeless." That's the worst thing we can do. When you do nothing, you become part of the silent majority, which further contributes to feeling helpless. If you want change, you need a method. The Alabama Solution offers a method that has been proved effective in electing women.

For information about The Alabama Solution, call 334-471-8946.

The Harbinger, Mobile, AL