Sen. Angela Turner-Ford, D-West Point, has introduced bills addressing pregnancy and pay discrimination — both of which have repeatedly failed to make it out of committee, due to what Turner-Ford calls a legislative failure to prioritize issues affecting women. She also co-sponsored a human trafficking bill that’s winding through the Legislature this year. We sat down with her to ask a few questions.
Mississippi Today:What’s it like to follow in your dad’s footsteps and literally sit in his seat? (She replaced her father’s — Sen. Bennie Turner — vacated seat after his death in 2012.)
Sen. Angela Turner-Ford: He and I practiced law together, so that void was there also. So, there was the void in the business, the void of a father and then “OK, do I really want to delve into a new political office?” Those were all issues to be balanced … It’s difficult on the one hand but, at the same time, I know that, even though he instilled a lot of the values that I have — he and my mother — we were different, and I think that I had to realize at some point that I have to chart my own course.
Mississippi Today: We know that state lawmakers do not look like the people of the state. Why is it important to you for the Legislature to move toward a truer demographic reflection?
Sen. Angela Turner-Ford: If a body of representatives is going to govern a group of people, as much as possible, it needs to reflect the different segments of the community. (Right now) there is no tweaking or fine-tuning … If you don’t have any diversity in the group, I think you just end up with the same thing that you had over and over. It shows up in education policies, it shows up in road and bridge policies, it shows up in mental health issues.
As women, we are educating our children, we are taking care of sick relatives, we are out here driving, we’re caretakers, we are talking with teachers — women have a perspective that needs to be heard. And it’s not going to be heard in a loud enough voice if you don’t have enough women saying it. And, as a legislator myself, as we move throughout the community, we need to make an effort to identify women that we believe can help the body and just encourage them. You can do this, you can get involved, you should get involved. You have what it takes.
You cannot get things done in this legislative body or any other as an individual. You need support, and women in Jackson need more support. These (bills) ideas didn’t just drop out of the sky. Somebody is pushing this. This is somebody’s agenda. I know, as I hear debate and deliberation on a bill, I’m trying to think in my mind, “Is there some unforeseen consequence? Who does it affect? Who wants it? Who does it help? Who does it hurt?” And, those are the types of questions I raise to myself before I even get up to the mic to ask anything verbally. And, I know that I’m not the most brilliant woman in the state of Mississippi, and I would imagine there are plenty more out there like me that are willing to bring their life experience, their education and any other background and upbringing to bear, and they can help too.
Mississippi Today: What should the Legislature be doing to address lacking women’s health care?
Sen. Angela Turner-Ford: I think it’s about being open-mined. Women’s health care is more than just a single issue that’s published in the news. It’s actually about giving enough thought to the health-related issues for women and caring enough to try to come up with a solution, instead of just a political position — passing certain bills during a legislative session that we know are subject to challenge.
Mississippi Today: Like the (abortion) heartbeat bill?
Sen. Angela Turner-Ford: Yes. In the grand scheme of things of the issues that actually face women, how much of an impact does it really have? Just being more practical about the problems that we face and that we have to deal with instead of philosophical, political positions.
Mississippi Today:So what is being done (for women)?
Sen. Angela Turner-Ford: I don’t know of anything. I don’t know of anything other than trying to make a point.