By David Barringer, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), SVdP National Council
(With permission from Dave Barringer - First published by SVDP Frederic's E-Gazette Nov-6-2014)
Regardless of one's political affiliations, we must admit that this was a very interesting election week! As I write this, there are still several contests around the country that are too close to call. One thing we do know for certain is the shift in power in the U.S. Senate to the Republicans, aligning with an even more Republican House of Representatives.
What does this mean for our Society, and for our friends in poverty? The short answer is that we simply don't know. We can, however, make a few assumptions:
1. This will be a Congress of much more action. With the same party now in control of both houses, the gridlock caused by partisan bickering will slow down if not cease. We expect the Senate to be more deliberative as the Republicans hold a small majority, too small for veto overrides. But bills that have stacked up, in the House can now be re-introduced and have a better chance to be on the President's desk.
2. The economy will be front and center. This is a wide area of potential smaller topics but candidates from both parties, incumbent and new, ran on getting the economy back on track in one way or another. This includes tax policy, the federal budget, wage policy, welfare reform, unemployment and immigration. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to look at one issue in isolation, so the risk is there that the work on one area may delay others from completion. But, we will see lots of trial balloon ideas and competing bills vying for attention. The Society's real-world experience with people in poverty can be valuable to lawmakers in evaluating economic policy solutions.
3. The race for 2016 begins, as does the last two years of a Presidency. As candidates jockey for attention, the rhetoric grows. Meanwhile, a lame duck President has a short time left to complete agendas and cement a legacy. The Society as a nonprofit cannot endorse candidates but can endorse ideas and values. There may be ample room for the Society at the table for both parties, especially as poverty solutions are introduced and debated. Both parties could hate us or love us, but we need to stay true to our values and seek only the love of Christ as we advocate for our friends in need.
4. Politics, and policy, are always local. I believe that the story of this election cycle is the confirmation that being in touch with one's local constituents helped win elections. "Inside the Beltway" politics was firmly rejected by voters who felt they were not heard. Some national figures salvaged relationships through multiple local appearances in the final weeks of their campaigns, while for others the perceived distance in both miles and beliefs from local voters could not be overcome. What this means for the Society is that our Voice of the Poor efforts at the local level may, at least for now, have a receptive audience. Our national presence across 400 dioceses and many election districts gives us the opportunity for many legislator "touches" in the course of policy discussions. Capitol Hill visits are nice, but home district visits often make the difference in vote influence, perceived less as special interest interventions and more as expressions of local constituent values.
A critical aspect of true systemic change is to advocate for policies that improve the opportunities for people in poverty to rise to self-sufficiency. Congress can't do it all but it is a great place to look for improvement. Many in Congress see the next two years as opportunities for sweeping changes. We, as Catholics and as the Society, can simply ride the tide of these changes or we can help to steer the ship with our visits, letters and phone calls to those we have elected. Buckle up for a wild ride ahead!
By Giulio Grecchi, Tucson, Voice of the Poor, Western Region Representative
Did our work change after the elections? The issues of the people we serve are still the same: generational poverty, job loss, minimum wage, homelessness, lack of documented status, etc. Inspired by the teaching of the Church, our advocacy will persevere, trying to remove the obstacles that keep people in poverty. Their needs seem only to grow larger as time passes.
Taking sides before or after the elections is not our business, as not for profit organization, but we are not happy about some trends that we have observed during this election cycle - trends, which are quite disconcerting.
There was a very limited voter turnout.
The turnout is always lower in the mid-term elections versus the presidential elections, but this time the decrease was huge, even when compared with the turnout of the 2010 mid-term.
Check the chart below with the participation of voter eligible population in the ten states of the Western region. The turnout went from a high of 48% in Montana to a low of 28.8 in Utah.
Among those that have not voted were most of the people we serve, many Hispanics and members of other minorities. Why? Some are using all their energies just in the struggle to survive another day, some do not have transportation to go to the polls, some cannot afford to miss part of their pay when taking time off for voting, and some simply feel so disenfranchised by the process, as not to care. In all cases, they missed the opportunity to make their voices heard.
TURNOUT PERCENTAGE FOR VOTER ELIGIBLE POPULATION
Many Hispanics are disappointed by the years of delays in implementing a reasonable immigration reform. Many stayed home upset that the President postponed the promised Executive Action, until after the elections. They viewed the move as a betrayal, but by not voting they have shot themselves in the foot, missing the chance to send to Washington candidates more favorable to their plea.
When two thirds of the potential electorate does not participate, our democratic system is at risk.
A number of SVdP Councils helped the participation of the people we serve through voter registration efforts or by facilitating their participation in other ways. This is something that more of us can do. Let us remember to do it for the 2016 elections.
There were massive amounts spent to promote specific candidates
The second disconcerting trend is the unprecedented amount of money spent to promote specific candidates, in large part big money, corporate money and secret dark money, for a total of $3.76 Billion nationwide. About a fourth of that money came from outside groups (secret dark money). They funneled it primarily to competitive districts to influence the electorate by spreading lies about the opponent of the candidates these groups support. If you live in one of these districts, you have likely received 35/40 pieces of mail in the last month with this type of message.
“Dark money” is now the way for undisclosed interest to “buy” a candidate and to make him / her feel obligated to push their agenda in Congress. The results of this practice are very clear:
(1) These candidates no longer feel accountable towards their electorate
(2) Do not feel any need to explain what they stand for (they simply repeat as a broken record how terrible their opponents are) and
(3) Refuse to participate in public debates or accountability sessions organized by their electors.
If you live in a competitive district, you have seen this happening.
In an election, money equals power and money drowns out the power and the voice of ordinary citizens, especially those we serve. This is a threat to our democratic system even more than the low voters’ turnout.
Sixteen states have already passed resolutions either by the legislature or by ballot initiatives asking Congress to overturn the “Citizens United” decision. Several other states have enacted strict spending limits or disclosure rules for “Dark Money”. More states are considering following.
Overturning the Supreme Court decision on “Citizens United” seems to be a key initiative that the majority of Americans expect from the new Legislature.
When God created humankind, He instilled in each of us a divine spark that would make us grow, develop in maturity and wisdom, and become great in His eyes. He entrusted us to each other: the days of strength of one person to compensate for the days of fragility of the other. That was the plan, but not everyone liked it. Men started to erect barriers, started to grab what the weak could not defend. Whether it is Russia grabbing Ukraine, or a dictator being deaf to the plea of his subjects, or the US rejecting the desperate people knocking at the border, or an employer not paying a fair wage – that is not God’s plan. Either we strive to be part of the solution, or we become part of the problem. It is not just about hurting other people, simply being indifferent or being neutral is being part of the problem, because in our own heart we have rejected God’s plan. In His plan, He has a place for everyone; He has sustenance for everyone and a dream for everyone, if just we do not get in His way.