When shared parenting bills come before state legislatures, members are usually faced with opposition from two groups – family lawyers and gender feminist groups. As I’ve written many times, their arguments don’t make sense. They recycle old, worn-out tropes, all of which have been debunked countless times. The simple truth is that equal parenting is best for kids and good for both mothers and fathers as well. Large amounts of social science demonstrate the fact and, faced with that, opponents arrive at the legislative battlefield unarmed. Briefly, they have no argument on the merits to make.
But, since the issue before any given legislator is whether to vote for or against a shared parenting bill, there’s always another consideration – how will it affect him/her at the polls? Now, we all know that elected officials would prefer to do the right thing in any given situation, not just about shared parenting. But in the mental struggle between doing the right thing and getting re-elected, often enough, the latter prevails.
And so it is with shared parenting bills. Proponents can and do present all the arguments on the merits of shared parenting, but if a legislator fears that a ‘yea’ vote will present a problem come next election day, he/she may find it hard to do the right thing.
That raises the question of whether voting in favor of shared parenting constitutes a threat to legislators’ political well-being.
Now we know the answer: it not only doesn’t harm his/her chances of winning, it powerfully enhances them. Indeed, a ‘no’ vote may be the kiss of electoral death.
This past year, Kentucky legislators passed the first law anywhere containing a presumption of shared parenting. That is to say that, sensible as that vote was in terms of children’s welfare, it was going out on a limb politically. And of course three weeks ago, voters went to the polls. How did shared parenting supporters and opponents in Kentucky fare? NPO’s Matt Hale has analyzed the impact at the ballot box (Daily Independent, 11/29/18).
There was a direct correlation between winning percentage of contested races and lawmakers’ support of the bill. Of the contested House races, 100 percent of the sponsors won, 90 percent of those who voted yes won, 80 percent of those who did not vote won and zero percent of those who voted no won. In fact, every sponsor of the bill running won despite 14 seats changing parties.
There was only one shared parenting opponent, Linda Belcher, on the ballot. She was crushed by 20 points after her vote against the joint custody law even though she easily won her last election by 37 points.
Belcher even had a large fundraising advantage as of Sept. 17 of $39,695 to her opponent, Thomas Huff’s, $15,369. Worse yet, Belcher was the only incumbent educator to lose in the year of unprecedented teacher energy. Belcher’s unforced error on the shared parenting bill appears to have cost her dearly…
Webb sponsored a shared parenting law herself in previous years. She met with shared parenting advocates repeatedly and spoke out in committee meetings in support. She even appeared on the front page of her local paper (which officially endorsed the shared parenting law) supporting joint custody a few weeks before the election.
[Democrat Robin] Webb was the only Democrat to win a contested Senate election this year. One final senate note, the only open senate seat was won by, you guessed it, a shared parenting supporter. Matt Castlen won Senate district 8 by a comfortable 16 points after voting for the law.It doesn’t get much clearer than that. This was an election year of considerable change at every level of the electoral hierarchy. Incumbents were in greater danger of losing their seats than usual and of course challengers had greater opportunities for success. But in Kentucky, there was a new dynamic at work – the vote for or against shared parenting. Voting in favor appears to have been a boon to a legislator’s chances and voting against had the opposite effect.
That is no surprise. After all, when surveyed, huge percentages of Kentuckians across every demographic category, expressed their support for shared parenting. They repeated that support in no uncertain terms at the ballot box.
Apart from its many benefits for kids, shared parenting is a winner among voters as well. Plus, its appeal is strongly non-partisan. Republicans and Democrats alike support shared parenting. So do blacks and whites and people across the whole range of income and education. In an era that longs for civility and agreement, shared parenting is that rarest of issues that affords both.
So now we know. Not only do opponents of shared parenting fail on the issue itself (we’ve known that for years), but they also have nothing with which to threaten lawmakers. Quite the contrary, shared parenting is ballot-box gold. You can bet that, in the next legislative season, NPO will be making that point again and again, right beside shared parenting’s benefits for kids.