Democratic candidate Nancy Carlton Bendinger wants to be a voice for everyone in Senate District 27, which includes parts of Lee, Russell and Tallapoosa counties.
"I just want to help and serve all the people in the district," said Bendinger. "Everyone deserves to have their voice heard, and I’d like to be a voice for them in Montgomery."
Bendinger has lived most of her life in the district — she grew up in Alex City, graduated with a degree in political science from Auburn University in 2001, worked as a health services coordinator at the Muscular Dystrophy Association in Montgomery and has spent the last five years as a Realtor at 360 Real Estate. She has also taken an active role in the community over the years.
"I’ve spent a lot of time volunteering in the community through different avenues — Red Cross, Parks and Rec Advisory Board, Junior League, so I’ve had a lot of opportunity to see where needs are and maybe where needs are not being met that could be met," she said. "I feel like this is the next step in trying to help our community in a bigger way."
Expanding Medicaid is at the top of her list of priorities.
"We’ve lost 11 hospitals since we did not take that expansion," said Bendinger, who also noted that Russell Hospital in Alex City recently laid off workers because of financial issues. "We have to take care of our people. We have to have access to health care because it can become a life or death situation if you don’t have a hospital in a reasonable distance from you, and it’s getting to be that way.
"(Expanding Medicaid is) a great first step in trying to save hospitals and jobs, and it will bring money into the state."
Bendinger also highlighted the importance of mental health care, which she said is underfunded in the state.
"We’re 10,000 beds short in Alabama," she said. "When the prisons are your largest providers of mental health services, I feel like we could be doing better. That’s a big area where I’d like to see us spend some time."
Bendinger also wants to address a number of issues in education, from increasing the pay of teachers to protecting their retirement to achieving more parity between schools districts.
"Better pay for teachers is huge because we’re going to lose our greatest teachers to other states if we can’t get pay on par with at least the region. We’ve got to protect RSA because that’s something that they’ve counted on and it’s a benefit that made the difference in being able to stay here when maybe the pay wasn’t as good. We’ve got to protect what they thought that they would have," said Bendinger, who also noted how District 27's counties compare in quality of life rankings by Voices for Alabama's Children. "Lee Country’s number four. Russell County is 37 or 38 and Tallapoosa is 57, so we go from top to middle to bottom.
"Kids are the same wherever they are. Just because you live in one area doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the same type of education and have the same opportunities, so if we can find ways to help areas that economically are not necessarily thriving in the same way to maybe get on parity with other schools I think that would help because you’re not going to be able to recruit businesses when you don’t have good schools."
Bendinger also addressed a number of other educational issues, saying she supported funding more guidance counselors and adding psychologists in schools, which she said could help identify problems earlier and allow for early intervention and greater student success while also helping address school security issues.
"I do think having more guidance counselors and school psychologists will help in terms of being able to identify someone who may have struggles so that maybe they never reach a point where a path they want to take is going into school with a gun," she said. "But I do not advocate for arming teachers. I don’t feel like that’s a good policy. I feel that there are other ways of mitigating that."
Bendinger also voiced support for increased state funding for vocational training, with programs, or vocational centers, where high schools and community colleges work in conjunction.
"It isn’t that there aren’t jobs available; it’s having people trained for the right jobs," she said.
Bendinger said she is in favor of a lottery in Alabama as long as the revenue is protected and directed toward education. To find out more about Bendinger, visit her website at www.votenancy27.net.