(PHOTO/ Emma Daniel)
Sen. Doug Jones held a media session after the town hall to allow student journalists, such as Brady Talbert of Troy TrojanVision News, to ask Jones direct questions.
Sen. Doug Jones began his first visit to Troy University by asking guests if he could “take off his stupid jacket” and roll up his sleeves.
About 150 students, professors and community members gathered in the Trojan Ballrooms on Tuesday to ask the Alabama senator questions during his first town hall at Troy University.
This was a chance for Jones to report on his progress over his year as a senator, showing voting records and how his opinions and stances have changed while in office.
Jones shared that his dedication to health for mothers and infants began when Alabama introduced its abortion ban last year.
While the outlook for women’s health issues may seem dismal, women of color are even more at risk, Jones said. Women of color are twice as likely to have complications during and after childbirth, and most of those complications are treatable.
“The racial disparities are pronounced,” Jones said.
Jones said this problem stems partly from closing rural hospitals in Alabama.
As of 1980, 45 out of 54 rural counties in Alabama had hospitals with OBGYN services available. Today, only 16 of those counties still have a hospital, according to Jones.
In addition, Alabama is currently ranked 48 in healthcare for the nation.
Jones said Alabama is leading in bad health, obesity, infant mortality and deaths from pregnancy.
“We’ve got several bills pending that deal strictly with maternal healthcare and infant mortality to change that dynamic,” Jones said.
He said he is working to expand Medicaid/Medicare to increase the amount of time mothers can be treated after childbirth, to funnel money into research on maternal mortality and to make pregnancy a qualifying life event to even get healthcare at all.
Jones said he wanted to commit to creating a public healthcare option, ideally using the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a framework, and to figure out how U.S. institutions can begin negotiating their own prices for prescription drugs.
Jones also discussed gun violence and how he and other senators are trying to handle the crisis.
“We need to get out of our corner… and figure out how to handle the gun issue,” Jones said. “I think we need to study gun violence more.”
Jones said he is pushing for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to research gun violence and mental health to try and understand the problem better.
Part of his reason for visiting Troy University was to facilitate conversations with young Alabamians.
“People need to understand, young people especially, that elections have consequences,” Jones said. “It’s not just for one year you’re looking at a vote — it’s beyond. Listening to their issues is what will motivate them,” he said.
Jones said he hopes his visit will help him connect with younger generations as he encourages them to vote in the next election — and every election after.
“This is an important area for the state of Alabama, and it’s important for me to come down here,” Jones said. “Not just to talk, but mainly to listen to these young people, how they’re doing and what’s on their mind.”
Richard Fast, a graduate economics student from Berkeley, California, said he attended because he wanted to join with other students in action.
“I would encourage other students to get involved and have their voice heard,” Fast said. “People say that younger people like to complain and don’t like to do anything.
“Young people historically and statistically don’t vote.”
Joanna Ellis, a senior history education major from Gardendale, Alabama, agreed that the event rallied her to get involved.
“I felt like this is a good opportunity to have direct communication with someone who makes decisions that directly affect you,” she said. “We’re literally the future of this nation, and if we’re going to be a good future, we need to know what’s going on.”
“I’ve lost a lot of faith in Alabama, but hearing Doug Jones helped a lot in that I feel like there’s someone who actually cares,” said Casey Gossman, a senior history major from Birmingham.
Jones closed off his event with the thought that Americans are far more connected than the vitriol on social media would suggest.
Jones said, “Everywhere I go, I’ve always believed that we have more in common than divides us; it seems like the issues are all the same.”