Unqualified and Unfit

Unqualified and Unfit

Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Robert Foster refused to allow a newspaper reporter to shadow him on the campaign trail because that reporter is a woman. He says the decision was made out of “respect for his wife.” This, of course, echoes Vice President Mike Pence’s stated policy of never dining alone with a woman who is not his wife. It all stems from the Billy Graham rule that says Christian couples should never spend time alone with people of the opposite sex.

Robert Foster

I don’t care what rules a couple establishes for their marriage. That’s their business. But it is irrational to bar a reporter from doing her job purely on the basis of sex. In this case, two other gubernatorial candidates agreed to the ride-along coverage of their campaigns. It’s a common journalistic practice and most candidates welcome the additional ink. This particular reporter has interviewed Foster numerous times and reported on his campaign. She’s a known entity, yet Foster said he would only allow her to do her job if she were accompanied by one of her male colleagues. In other words, she would need to bring a chaperone.

This is utterly ridiculous.

The news organization in question, Mississippi Today, is a small, tightly run organization. No newsroom in this day and age can spare two reporters to do the job of one. And the reporter, Larrison Campbell, has an impressive resume and impeccable credentials. There is no reason to question her motives or her professionalism.

The truth is, Foster is not likely to be the next governor of Mississippi. He’s a middling candidate with no name recognition who is in a primary race against two Mississippi Republican stalwarts—former State Supreme Court chief justice Bill Waller and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. Foster is a one-term state representative with few credentials. He doesn’t stand a chance against his better known opponents, though his candidacy may force a runoff. So it’s pure speculation to think about a Foster administration, but let’s do it anyway.

If Foster refuses to allow a female reporter to accompany him on a campaign road trip, then he’ll surely bar women from other scenarios, as well. We have to assume he’ll refuse one-on-one meetings with female representatives, business owners, and constituents. And I suppose he will not hire any female interns or clerks to gain experience in his office. That is a huge problem. When men refuse to hire or work with women strictly because they are women, that’s clear discrimination. It’s the sort of discrimination that sets women back professionally. And it’s against the law.

Foster’s spokesman in this case says they can’t afford even the appearance of impropriety. He says that people follow them around and take pictures and video on their cell phones. Well, yeah, that’s the world we live in. But there is nothing improper about a photo or video of a man standing or sitting or driving with a woman.

Further, even if one of his opponents were to make a spurious allegation about Foster and any woman, it probably wouldn’t hurt his career. Just look at the current occupant of the White House or Jeffrey Epstein or former Mississippi Governor Kirk Fordice for proof of that. Plenty of men hold on to power and money when faced with credible allegations of sexual misconduct and even rape. It’s pure nonsense to imagine that Foster would be brought down by an unfounded rumor.

Look, Foster likely doesn’t want the increased press coverage that a ride-along would bring. His campaign and his credentials are shallow. An in-depth report would highlight his deficiencies. His campaign could have refused the ride-along request for any number of reasons, but they made a point of saying he was refusing the request based solely on the reporter’s gender. That’s an epic blunder. It’s the sort of bad decision that illustrates why Foster is not fit for public office.

Although perhaps it wasn’t a blunder. It’s possible that Foster’s campaign realized that one of the best ways to get more press for an uninspiring candidate was to pick a fight with a local news organization. After all, professing disdain for women and for the media has proved a winning campaign strategy for Republicans in recent years. It’s also possible that some people are encouraging Foster’s campaign to make bad decisions in order to undermine his candidacy. State Republicans tried to bribe Foster to stay out of the governor’s race because of worries he might siphon votes and money from the more likely contenders. It’s also possible, I suppose, that Foster’s wife has good reason to insist he not be alone with other women. We can’t know for sure.

Whatever the reason, a stated policy of sexual discrimination is disqualifying. Foster should drop out of the governor’s race and should give up his political career. A man who refuses to work with women is not qualified to represent women.

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Tiffany Quay Tyson

THE PAST IS NEVER is the winner of the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction, the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction, and the Mississippi Author Award for Adult Fiction (selected by the Mississippi Library Association). This southern gothic novel steeped in local lore was selected as an "Okra Pick" by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. Tyson's debut novel THREE RIVERS was a finalist for both the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction. She was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi and now lives, writes, and teaches in Denver, Colorado.
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