Thursday, December 1, 2011

One of the dominant voices in Carroll government now is older residents frightened they’ll outlive their savings.

You can’t blame them, either.

Seniors in January will see the first Social Security cost-of-living increase in three years. That’s a long period on a fixed income with no bump.

What’s more, the stock market is something of a yo-yo in the hands of a man on stilts. The wild, rubber-band swings of the Dow Jones make craps tables seem like serene day spas.

And if your money is in traditional savings? The interest is barely discernable. You can get a better return inviting friends over, having them sit on loose couches and combing coins under the cushions when the party’s over.

All of this is occurring against a backdrop of political posturing on the deficit and spending that shakes confidence in the future of Medicare and Social Security as the entitlements we know today.

So, yes, older voters have real reason to be wary of candidates or initiatives that can be linked to even a rusty nickel’s increase in property taxes.

This isn’t to say all older voters make decisions based on short-term self-interest or self-preservation. Some see progressive candidates and referendums as rousing up tides that will lift all our boats. Many seniors, blessed with golden streaks of altruism, think of their kids and grandchildren, a community’s legacy, at the polls — their own pocketbooks be damned.

But the fear is there. And it isn’t to dismissed or mocked.

That said, this reflexive conservatism should be balanced by the interests of other voting demographics — 28-year-old moms who want off the waiting list at the Carroll Area Child Care Center, 40-year-old fathers who’d like to see their high school boys play football on a marvelous field like the one Spirit Lake has or 49-year-old business owners who support aggressive investment in Carroll’s infrastructure.

Effective democratic government demands competing interests.

Instead, in Carroll, Iowa, today we have a clench-fisted dominance of one demographic and the blithe disengagement of another.

A distressing number emerged in a Daily Times Herald analysis of the 774 votes cast in our recent city election.

Eleven.

That’s how many Carroll residents 30 years old and younger voted in last month’s city elections for mayor and three council seats — enough elected positions to control action in the Farner Government Building and kill or pass most anything short of major bond issues.

Meanwhile, 85 percent of the voters were 50 and older, and 50 percent were 65 and older.

Voters in their 30s and 40s didn’t exactly swell the polling places in Carroll on Nov. 8, either. In the 31-to-49 category there were 105 voters, just 14 percent of the total that election.

What this amounts to is nothing short of a generational surrender.

“It certainly is something I would be concerned about but it is not shocking to me,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta and a nationally recognized expert on elections, public opinion and voting.

In a phone interview, Abramowitz said older voters traditionally have disproportionate voices at the polls.

“For the most part they’re more involved, they have greater ties to the community,” he said.

But 50 percent?

85 percent?

“That’s striking,” Abramowitz said.

Two former Carroll mayors — Art Neu and Dr. Robert Christensen, 78 and 79 respectively — have expressed dismay with the lack of participation by younger Carroll residents in the election.

It appears as if the Internet, which is supposed to link us all together, keep us but a keystroke from love, laughter and life-changing advice, is in crucial respects driving us apart. Younger Carroll residents, with their 763 Facebook “friends,” streamed-to-home movies and modern amenities, are able to cocoon themselves, create their own individualized communities of kid-club-sports daddies and mommies. “What, me, have time to vote? Don’t you know how hard it is to raise kids today, to drive them to their 23 hours of scheduled activities?”

Our 20-to-45 demographic needs a wake-up call. The bubbles they’ve created, the networks of the like-minded they’ve crafted for their own psychological breastfeeding, just so happen to exist in this broader thing called a community.

Younger residents can’t keep the actions — or inactions — of the leaders of the community from intersecting with their meticulously scripted, self-styled worlds.

Our young people can help define their community or have it defined for them by others who have far different interests, a necessarily shorter outlook on life.

Here’s what we all should ask ourselves: At the end of the day do you want to live in a town that acts 38 or 78?