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Local, female legislators say women vital to next election

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Recently, State Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro) and State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale), along with hundreds of female legislators from around the country, attended the WiLL/WAND Conference, a biennial, bi-partisan event aimed at teaching female legislators and activists how to change the nation's priorities.

Davenport and Abdul-Salaam, believe women will play a crucial role in the 2008 presidential election, as well as what direction individual states will take on crucial issues, such as the war in Iraq, immigration and SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program), also known as PeachCare in the state of Georgia.

"Because it's such a key election year, women will play a key roll in who is elected," said Abdul-Salaam, who noted that 54 percent of the voters in Georgia are female. "We can be the deciding factor in a presidential election."

Originally Women's Action Nuclear Disarmament, WAND changed it's name to Women's Action for New Directions to address the larger goal of influencing the government to redirect money given to the Pentagon to domestic initiatives, such as health care and education. WiLL (Women Legislators' Lobby), is a program under WAND, which trains female legislators how to track the federal budget to see where the money is really going.

Davenport said the conference was a chance for female legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, to connect as women on issues that transcend party lines, such as SCHIP.

"Some things are on party lines, but when you get to women, no one wants to see a child without health care, Republican or Democrat," said Davenport. "I think that we can really change our national priorities, and women will set that course."

"We need more female leadership in Congress," said Abdul-Salaam. "Women are loyal and faithful to make changes, and we want to have a say in who makes those changes."

During the conference, the female legislators met with their local members of Congress to discuss several federal budgeting issues, but did not go as far as endorsing a candidate for president.

Hillary Clinton, the only female seeking the Democratic party's nomination, is already being endorsed by Georgia Congressmen David Scott and John Lewis, but Abdul-Salaam said that she had not yet chosen a candidate to endorse. Davenport said she is endorsing Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

"I think that [Clinton] would be an excellent communicator," said Abdul-Salaam. However, "I've not heard some of the things that I really need to hear. I'm hoping that there will be an 'a-ha' moment, but I haven't had that, yet."

While Davenport said she wanted to see more women in the Congress, she said she believes Obama is better suited to be president. "I think that he is the best person for the job," she said.

"He's up on all the issues, and I think that he would be a good president. He wants to take the country in a new direction, and I think that's what the country needs right now."