October 29, 2004

Lifton Addresses Women's Issues

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Ithaca’s New York State assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-125th District) came to campus yesterday evening to speak on the impact of Bush Administration policies on women, among other issues. Addressing a small group of students, Lifton gave her opinion in a number of areas, ranging from abortion and education to her experiences while running for the Assembly in 2002. Because of the limited attendance, Lifton devoted only a little time to her prepared remarks, engaging instead in a dialogue with audience members. Before becoming an assemblywoman, Lifton spent time as a teacher, so education was a topic on which she had strong opinions. She charged President Bush with setting demanding new standards for public schools but then providing $28 billion less than was needed to fund his No Child Left Behind act.

“It’s setting our schools up for failure, setting our teachers up for failure, and setting up our children for failure,” she said.

“New York already has a strong testing regimen in place so to add on another level of more federal tests is unnecessary,” she added.

Lifton said that the result of so many tests was that children now spend more than a month a year almost exclusively studying for tests rather than learning new material. She noted that the state legislature had passed an increase in school aid of $740 million this year.

Bush’s policies on abortion also provided a source of criticism for Lifton. In addition to criticizing his imposition of a ‘gag rule’ that prohibits American aid from going to family planning groups that mention abortion, she attacked his opposition to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in most cases.

“Before Roe v. Wade it wasn’t just the six or eight week old fetus that died, it was the woman,” she said.

She added that she was concerned that, “maybe half the counties in the country don’t have any abortion providers, and that number is shrinking.”

Lifton’s visit was co-sponsored by the Cornell Democrats and Students Acting for Gender Equality (SAGE). Jamie Gullen ’07, treasurer for the Cornell Democrats said that she was glad to hear Lifton’s opinions on issues of concern for women.

Lifton also described her run for assembly in 2002. After serving for 14 years as chief of staff for the previous assemblyman, Marty Luster, she decided to run for his seat when he retired two years ago. When she heard about Luster’s retirement, she did not at first think about running for office.

“Women are often comfortable with being the supporter, not the main role,” she said.

She challenged women to reject this mindset, as she did when she finally made the decision to run.

Once she entered the race, she faced a six-month primary against two other Democrats, and she quickly discovered, that “it is grueling work doing a state legislative campaign — it goes on 24/7,” she said.

She was encouraged, however, by the support she received from “women and progressive men.”

“You could tell that women were very excited to have a woman running for assembly,” she said.

Diane Rodriguez ’05, a student who attended Lifton’s talk, said that she appreciated the chance to speak with a woman with so much knowledge and experience.

“I found that she was very informative, and it seemed like I agreed with her on most of her points,” she said.