What matters most?

August 30, 2008 10:42 am

This year’s Union County Fair was blessed with good weather, attracting large crowds all four days of the fair. As part of our efforts to engage citizens in discussion on public policy issues, the Union County Democrats hosted an informal “vote your issues” poll at our fair booth using colorful glass stones.

Each voter could use six stones, singly or in multiples, to drop into six glass jars labeled: Economy, Education, End War, Energy, Health Care and Veterans. We told the fairgoers that we would report on the results following the fair.

The issue of Education received the most votes (613), confirming a Democratic belief in the importance of an informed citizenry and skilled workforce to successful individual futures, good global relationships and a strong competitive economy.

Unsurprisingly, Health Care came in second (550) in the poll. As confirmed by our conversations, this issue hits home personally with many (including employers) who have serious concerns about their ability to afford the current inefficient system and want something better.

Ending the War received almost as much support as health care (547). People held many views about the conflicts in Iraq (now five years and counting), and some with family members currently deployed placed their stones in support of their service. But most insisted that we must end the U.S. presence there as soon as possible.

The Economy received 496 votes. For those who discussed this issue, primary concerns included the exponential rise of health care costs, the loss of jobs in part related to the housing crisis and high fuel prices, the increasing cost of the war in Iraq (and our increased indebtedness to foreign countries such as China to pay the debts incurred) and the subprime mortgage crisis with its ripple effects on people seeking bank credit and the construction industry broadly.

Veterans issues came in fifth in the poll (402). Recent coverage of the shameful medical treatment of our soldiers and veterans, their difficulty in securing services and worries about the costs of meeting our obligation to provide good treatment for the large number of wounded veterans led many to prioritize this concern.

The final issue, Energy, received 399 votes. This ranking was surprising to us, given the direct effects of increasing fuel and heating prices on individual life choices and the growing public concern about global warming.

Choosing which of these important issues should be the highest priority was difficult for our fair voters. In our conversations, we learned that people were deeply concerned about energy and the environment.

For some, ending the war had to happen first in order to free up money to begin to address these other issues. Some insisted that education had to be first, so people could learn why we need a major shift in our thinking about energy and global realities. And for others, the weakening economy threatens to undermine any efforts we might make in addressing the other priorities.

John Muir, the great naturalist, once said that “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” What is true in nature is true in society.

In this time of tremendous challenge, Union County Democrats are committed to support candidates who treat these issues as important policy priorities.

Rosemary Powers is chairwoman of the Union County Democrats.