One waitress and the coming pitched battle for women’s votes

When candidates speak and elected officials craft policies, they should remember Judy, a waitress and housekeeper who played a bit role in a Washington, D.C., drama.

In September 2013, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, took to the Senate floor to rail against the Affordable Care Act. Republicans later shut down the federal government, although Cruz did not stop the increasingly popular health care law.

Interrupting Cruz’s long talk and mentioning Judy was Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois. Durbin told Cruz, “Judy is a housekeeper at a motel that I often go to, and we have become friends. Judy has worked her whole life in manual labor. She has been everything you can imagine — a cook, a waitress, a housekeeper, all of these things. She is 62 years old. Judy told me that she had never had health insurance one day in her life, ever. She worked every single day she could, but she never had health insurance.”

Judy was also a diabetic, and, as Durbin noted, because of the Affordable Care Act, she would be getting comprehensive health coverage for the first time in her life.

And when Durbin asked Cruz what he, as an opponent of the health law, would offer to Judy, Cruz said, “The best way for Judy or anyone to have health insurance is to have an economy that is booming where people can get jobs and have opportunities.”

For Judy, this was a worthless answer. Judy didn’t lack health care because she was unemployed.

As Durbin said to Cruz, “ I think the senator’s answer to Judy is: You need a better job. After working a lifetime — 62 years, hard work, the best she can do; she has never had health insurance — and I think the senator’s answer was: Judy, get a better job.”

Now, some women in Judy’s position might, with enough support, be able to go to school and get a better job. For women with children, their ability to move up would necessitate affordable tuition and child care and possibly some short-term help with buying food and paying rent.

But there will always be a Judy. There will always be a waitress or housekeeper with low pay and no employer-provided health insurance. Those women need the security and dignity of health coverage, no matter their age or whether they have a chronic illness.

It’s these matters — at least as much as the “war on women” issues like comments by a Republican candidate about “legitimate rape,” legislative votes requiring intravaginal probes of women seeking abortion, and support for limiting insurance coverage for birth control — that drive the gender gap.

Young, old and in-between, in Maine and across the across the nation, women vote more Democratic than men. There are more women voters than male ones. Candidates can win without most women’s votes, but it’s harder.

For all sorts of reasons, from discrimination to differences in the jobs they hold, women earn less than men. These lower earnings mean less money contributed to retirement savings and Social Security. Then, women live longer than men.

As they move in and out of the workforce more than men, taking care of children and elderly relatives, women are more likely to work part-time.

Women are more likely to be paid caretakers, like the home health care workers who keep a grandmother in her home, saving tremendous amounts of public and family funds that would have been spent on expensive nursing homes.

Women are more likely to have ideologies tilted toward care and the common good, but appealing to them also requires attending to their economic interests.

Democrats have tended to get women’s support because they champion health care policies covering more people, call for higher wages for low-income workers, support economic growth serving the whole income spectrum, uphold Medicare and Social Security and support parental leave.

Today, more young women than men attend college, and Democrats’ support for greater college affordability attracts their support. They’re also more supportive of gay rights than men. And, yes, because they want to control when they have children in order to control their futures, reproductive rights matter.

Whether it’s a waitress named Judy, a college graduate entering a professional position, or a caretaker of a child or elder who works part-time for pay, winning women’s votes means paying attention to policies producing security and opportunity.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.