Alabama State Senate candidate talks school shootings, #MeToo and the AEA

(Mary Scott Hunter for State Senate)


Yellowhammer News recently sat down with Alabama School Board member and State Senate candidate Mary Scott Hunter to talk about hot-button topics like school shootings, the #MeToo movement, what she thinks of the Alabama Education Association (AEA), and why she prefers to be thought of as a “candidate”, not a “female candidate”.

Hunter is running in the Republican Primary against Sam Givhan to replace retiring State Sen. Paul Sanford, whose North Alabama district includes much of the City of Huntsville and rural parts of Madison County. The primary will be held on June 5.

YELLOWHAMMER: What should schools do to protect students from school shootings?

Mary Scott Hunter: I think all serious problems that require an “all hands” approach should be attacked internally and externally. Externally, there are lots of ways to make a school safer. You must think in terms of making a school and those within it harder to target for a would-be killer. So, think about things like construction techniques that use a locked atrium system for visitor entry and making classrooms “safe rooms” with locking systems. We should do student and teacher training in “Run, Hide, Fight,” and consider deputizing, training, and arming teachers because this acts as a deterrent to bad guys.

Last year I visited a Limestone County school systrem that is currently utilizing a system for teachers who open a box attached to a wall in their classroom in an active shooter situation. The box emits a signal to law enforcement and contains a stun gun, mace, and some basic medical supplies. The teachers receive training on how to use the contents of the emergency box.  All our schools should be mapped and the maps immediately accessible to first responders.

But government rarely cleanly solves a problem so we should also look inwardly for solutions, too. Prayer certainly is essential. Your individual witness and personal example should also not be underestimated when it comes to societal issues. A lot of evil and violence stems from the general erosion of our society’s values – we can and should improve there. As a current policymaker and future lawmaker, I’ve tried to find ways to make schools safer. I think we have to be careful here because there’s no single thing that works.

YELLOWHAMMER: You have worked in fields largely dominated by men as an Air Force veteran, a lawyer, and in tech. How should men and women navigate workplace issues in the wake of #MeToo?

MSH: I think you have to make general rules for how you conduct yourself, remembering that a general rule is a general rule; you have to make exceptions.

For example, I’m a lawyer and I absolutely have to close my door to have meetings. So, Mike Pence’s rule? Probably a good idea. I’m not sure anyone needs to be out to dinner alone. But, is he really not going to have closed-door meetings with top females in the administration? I don’t think going that far is necessary. I don’t think we need to get hung up on an open-door policy. Don’t be so rigid you can’t make a reasonable exception.

YELLOWHAMMER: What should women do if they are harassed?

MSH: I am grateful that I have not been in a situation where I’ve been harassed. But I think if that happens, a woman should immediately address it. Handle it right there and make it clear: That better not ever happen again. Don’t let it languish or fester. Confront it with strength. I think first women need to respect themselves and strengthen themselves to hopefully avoid it.

We know [harrassment] happens. There will be those times when you cannot handle it alone and you have to come forward and say something. You have to be honest. But on the other hand, what can happen with these movements is you have an ‘over-victimization,’ and an acceptance that being weak is inevitable. It isn’t inevitable. It doesn’t have to be inevitable that you are in a position of weakness.

YELLOWHAMMER: You have said that your goal in running for State Senate isn’t necessarily to add more women to the Legislature. Tell me more about that.

MSH: I’m a ‘candidate’ for State Senate; I’m not a ‘female candidate’. I don’t want to say it’s not important to have female legislators, it is, but what does it serve to dwell on that? I didn’t look at the Alabama Legislature and say, there aren’t enough women, I should run. I’m running because I believe I have something to offer and I want to serve.

YELLOWHAMMER: Some have said women don’t run because of the toll it may take on their families. You are married with three children, your husband has deployed at times, you have a full-time job, serve on multiple boards, and are running for office. How do you make it work? Do you do your own laundry?

MSH: I do a lot of crockpot cooking and yes, I do all the laundry. A few years ago, when Jon deployed, I got really good at managing everything. We have a chore chart system and the kids earn an allowance by helping. We’re maniacal about that chore chart and make a big deal about the kids getting their allowance. We also have a college student who comes and helps in the afternoon.

There are days I don’t do it well. Some days I can only do what I have to do, as in, I have to get the kids to school, okay I can do that. And then there are days your son or daughter gets sick and you drop everything to be there for them.

For me, I have to have priorities. I always make a list. I’ve had a list running for 20 years. And so, I know what I have to do that day, then I have my “like to do” list I hope I can get to.  I almost always get my short list of have-to-dos done.  Most days I can do a couple of things on my like-to-do list.

And I can’t say enough about having strong friendships. I have a best friend, Amy Boyd, who is like a second mom to my kids and I am to hers. Many days we are in the same boat with busy jobs and busy husbands and we help each other. I am blessed to have a circle of friends I can count on. If things fell apart, I could call them.

And, really, most importantly, if you are blessed to have a spouse, don’t give him a hard time. Be understanding, don’t stay mad. You know, all those things your mom told you before your wedding – those are important. If you are married, your marriage is the most important thing.

YELLOWHAMMER: You have some critics in the Alabama Education Association (AEA). What do you think of the organization?

MSH: I think the AEA as an organization has some challenges. They are a mix of professionals, being the teachers, and then the non-professionals. So, there is a question as to identity. Are they a professional association? A union?

When it comes to wages, labor, workplace considerations, that’s a little more straightforward, but on the professional side, talking to that side, there is such a tremendous opportunity to be in partnership to raise up the profession of teaching. This was one of the first true professions, and such an important one, so let’s partner. It’s hard to think of the AEA as partners, but why not? There’s a lot of opportunity there, but it’s unclaimed opportunity. I think trust has to be rebuilt.

YELLOWHAMMER: In 2013, the Huntsville GOP voted to censure you for “dereliction of duty” for failing to fight against Common Core. It’s been a few years — What are your updated thoughts on that and on Common Core?

MSH: That’s water under the bridge. I’m a lifelong conservative Republican and I support our local party and appreciate what they do for this area. I’ve often felt misunderstood on the standards issue. I strongly believe we need rigorous standards in every classroom and we haven’t always had them. That said, I have always opposed federal mandates and intrusion into our classrooms and I believe Alabama teachers and parents are more than qualified to develop strong standards for our kids without Washington’s input.

YELLOWHAMMER: What does conservatism mean to you?

MSH: When I think about being politically conservative, I think there are three types of issues: Social, Foreign Policy, and Fiscal. I’m conservative on all three. When it comes to social issues, I had a child born at 32 weeks, and the notion that we could end a life like that… that is abhorrent to me. I’m strongly pro-life.

When it comes to foreign policy, with my background in the military, I know firsthand that conservative policies are better for our standing in the world.

When it comes to the fiscal category, I think that is the clearest cut of all of them. I believe in holding government accountable, cutting where we can, and making sure the taxpayer is getting what they’re paying for.

YELLOWHAMMER: Do you think politics are more divisive than ever? What can Republicans and conservatives do to pull together?

MSH: It’s not easy. It’s always easier to say something hurtful, especially on social media. I tell myself to be honest and to not hold back out of fear. I try to be respectful of all sides. When I disagree, I try to leave personal attacks at the door. I do wish people weren’t so vitriolic. The only thing you can control is your own behavior, and then the next order of business is to try to help others you have an influence over to make good decisions. You know, as southern mothers, we say, “Use nice words.” That doesn’t mean you’re a pushover. I think using nice words can be powerful.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.