Columns 2006

If you didn’t vote, they’re not your elected officials

Yes, sir. Welcome to Anchorage. Welcome to Alaska. Welcome to America. Land of the brave and home of the free, emphasis on the word free.

Seems to me that America has become the ultimate land of the freeloader.  I’m not talking about the mythical welfare mom arriving in her Cadillac to pick up a welfare check.  I’m not referring to illegal immigrants who might receive taxpayer funded health care because their under minimum wage, off the books, jobs leaves them no choice.  No, I’m talking about your every day, born and bred here, July 4 flag waving American who thinks democracy comes free and once achieved will forever be our birthright.

In case you are wondering where to find these people, take a look around you.  Barely more than 30% of eligible voters bothered to take five minutes to go to their polling place and cast a vote in our latest municipal election.  That means that seven out of ten people surrounding you at work, play, in the grocery store or at the gas pump don’t feel that our form of government is important enough to participate in.  This is the same form of government we are apparently willing to send our young men and women to the mid-east to fight and die for.  But here in the heartland we have more important things to do.

In Israel recently, election turn out hit an all time low. Only a little over 60% of the electorate cast votes.  The last time that many people turned out to vote in a national election here was in 1964. The numbers have continually dropped since then. In the 2000 presidential election, barely 51% of eligible Americans bothered to vote.  And if you look at the percentage for mid-term elections, it falls into the low 30s.  So I guess to that extent, Anchorage is finally in line with the lower 48. We can no longer claim that in Alaska we do things differently.

President Bush and the Republican Party currently face some of the lowest approval ratings ever recorded for the party in power.  Most polls put them in the low 30s on everything from the war of terror to immigration policy.  In some countries those numbers would make people very nervous about the possibility of a revolt leading to the overthrow of the government and a period of intense instability.  That’s not a real worry here in America.

If I’m being an optimist, I think that we don’t have to worry because people are willing to let our government fulfill it elected mandate. They will make a bloodless, civil change if needed the next time they go to the polls. When I’m being a pessimist, I think that we don’t have to worry because no one is either paying attention enough or caring enough. For so long as American Idol is on TV and there is gas at whatever price when the car needs filling up, no one sees a need to get all that worked up over the state of our country, or apparently the state of our city. 

The people who bothered to vote in our last municipal election made some very clear and critical decisions about what they see as the path our city should take in the near and distant future.  30% of our residents made those decisions for the other 70% who were too busy catching up on taped episodes of 24 to make it to the polls.  Which means that when school overcrowding starts affecting your child’s education, your right to complain about the lack of school construction runs smack up against your lazy attitude about your civic responsibilities.

Mark Begich said he heard the message given to him by the voters loud and clear. They like his vision for the city but they don’t particularly want to pay for it in any way that would actually involve them paying more for it.  As a homeowner who has watched increased property taxes eat into a fixed income, it’s a position I fully understand.  On the other hand, I wonder what those other 70% think. Are they going to be the ones bitching and complaining about the lack of city park upgrades, new roofs on schools or better coordination of emergency response radios?

I think we should pass a new law in this town.  Heck, let’s pass it nationally.  You cannot complain, kvetch, talk about or indicate any unhappiness with any policy, law or direction taken by any elected government official at any level without first showing proof that you voted in at least two out of the last three municipal, state and federal elections.  You can’t write letters to the editor, you can’t call talk radio shows, and most importantly you can’t contact your elected representatives because guess what?  You didn’t elect them. I did.